NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Protected Privilege of Government Unions

October 7, 2015

Public sector unions are increasingly becoming bastions of white-collar, skilled workers, counter to the mythology of a blue-collar everyman. Government unions are major political campaign donors. Elected officials who rely on unions to remain in office in exchange for expanding benefit packages are driving cities like Detroit and Stockton, California, and states like Illinois and New Jersey to the brink of fiscal insolvency.

Government employee unions create a more expensive and protected class of workers at the expense of nonunion workers, students and taxpayers. They engage in politics to expand and protect the perks of government employees who are more likely to have attended college and garner salary and benefit packages more generous than the average private sector worker.

  • The year 2009 was the first time that unionized government employees (7.9 million) outnumbered private sector union members (7.4 million).
  • The typical union member no longer lives in a major city center close to the factory; by the 1990s, union members were more likely to live in suburban than urban areas.
  • In 2013, 53.6 percent of workers in the public sector had a bachelor's, advanced, or professional degree, compared to 34.9 percent of private sector workers.

Public sector unions are inherently political institutions, funded at taxpayer expense, whose core mission is to advance the interests of a protected class of workers. They rely on the growth of government for members. Those who believe government can and should do more to create greater opportunity for the poor should take a serious look at the costs and inefficiencies imposed by government unions -- costs that crowd out basic public services all residents rely on, from garbage collection to fire protection. Thus, government unions' interests run counter to those of taxpayers, who end up paying more for less in terms of public services.

Source: Carrie Sheffield, "How Government Unions Undermine Upward Mobility," Competitive Enterprise Institute, September 29, 2015.

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