Beyond Public Sector Unionism: A Better Way
By David Y. Denholm
The movement toward public sector unionism and collective bargaining began in the late 1950's. Its proponents ought to be forgiven for their failure to foresee just how harmful it would be to our nation's governmental institutions. They had no empirical evidence on which to base their ideas.
Now, almost forty years later, the politicians who insist on perpetuating the compulsory public sector collective bargaining laws that have given public sector unions disproportionate power in determining the size, cost and quality of public services are less easily forgiven. The record is clear. It is an unmitigated disaster.
But, politicians are, after all, politicians and the laws that gave public sector unions so much influence on government decisions have also made them into very powerful political forces throughout the country.
Fortunately, there is a new mood sweeping the country and the public is not content to allow politicians to maintain business as usual with special interests.
Already, in small ways all across the country, public sector union power is being successfully challenged. But, Rome was neither built nor burnt in a day. There is a long way to go to restore the proper balance between the public interest and the interests of public employees.
I hope that this fourth edition of Beyond Public Sector Unionism: A Better Way will continue to have a positive influence in that direction.
The ideas in this booklet are constantly in process. I welcome all comments and suggestions for consideration in future editions.
The differences between the public sector and the private sector. Monopoly v. Competition - Political v. Economic -Sovereign v. Free Contract
The nature of unionism. Adversarial - Monopoly - Equals at the table - Impasses.
The public interest. Harmony - Equity - Employee rights v. Union Privileges - Public Control
The historic perspective. Union penetration in the work force - Government support of unions - Competition and technology - Unions and quality-Empowering workers -Communications - Dues check-off - Union political spending - Sources of support.
The Case Against Public Sector Collective Bargaining
Public sector collective bargaining is a creature of the late 1950s and 1960s. The academicians and politicians who theorized about it and legislated its beginnings can be forgiven for having erred because they were working in a void with no empirical evidence as to how it would work.
Public sector collective bargaining as we know it in the 1990s is a failure. There is a very strong case against it but the laws which mandate it have created and added to the political power of the public sector unions. They will not lightly relinquish the power they have achieved. Therefore, the case against public sector unionism must have both theoretical and political dimensions.
To understand the utter futility of using the collective bargaining process to establish equity and harmony in public employment, it is necessary to briefly review the basic premises of our system of government and the fundamental nature of unionism and collective bargaining.
Differences between the Public and Private Sectors
We live in a society with two distinct sectors--the public and the private.
Unionism and collective bargaining are products of the economic decision making process of the private sector of our society. Despite this, the National Labor Relations Act, which was designed in and for our private sector, has been used as a model for all public sector bargaining laws, with minor variation. Those who imposed collective bargaining on the public sector failed to appreciate the differences between the public and private sectors.
The public sector is monopolistic; there is a single source of supply for government services. There is only one fire department, one police department, one system of public education.
"The public sector provides essential services."
The private sector is competitive; there are alternative sources of supply for the goods and services produced. There are a multitude of choices in everything from automobile dealerships to grocery stores.
The public sector provides essential services. It is the very nature of government to provide on a monopoly basis those services which everyone needs.
The private sector provides nonessential services. There are public choices involved as to what sort and how much of private sector goods and services to buy and use, whether it be an automobile or a television or what brand of gas to buy or what channel to watch or whether to drive a car or to watch television at all.
This is not to say that some private sector goods, such as food, are not essential. But, in many cases, the government provides essentials through programs such as food stamps. Also, some may choose to argue that many government services are far from essential, but that is an argument against government providing that sort of service rather than an argument against the premise.
Political v. Economic
Public sector decisions are political decisions no matter how great their economic impact. Government makes decisions every day that have profound economic consequences, but these decisions are based on political, not economic, considerations. In the public sector, decisions that are politically popular but economically ruinous can get you reelected. Decisions that are economically sound but politically unpopular are ruinous.
Private sector decisions are economic decisions no matter how great their political impact. In the private sector, economic decisions that have bad political consequences can make you unpopular, but decisions that are politically popular and have bad economic consequences can put you out of business.
Sovereign v. Free Contract
Government--the public sector--is sovereign, and no other institution or enterprise in our society is sovereign. Sovereignty is the power to use force--to compel. Under our democratic system only government is sovereign. Governmental sovereignty is derived from popular sovereignty which we as citizens give to government, within constitutional limits through our elected representatives, in the interest of order, security, and the public good.
Government's sovereignty is obvious in such things as compulsory school attendance laws, in its power to collect taxes and in its power to violate personal and property rights in the public interest.
"A government which is not sovereign is a contradiction of terms."
All economic and social activity in the private sector is governed by free contract. You only have a free contract when both parties want one. You cannot be compelled to buy the product of a particular company. Businesses cannot be compelled to join a business or trade organization. Support of churches is entirely voluntary. The list goes on and on.
Sovereignty is misunderstood. Many think of it in terins of the "divine right of kings." It is useless to argue that sovereignity is an outdated concept. Sovereignity is not something that government can choose to have. A government which is not sovereign is a contradiction of terms. No matter how pluralistic our society becomes, it is the sovereign nature of government which guarantees the order necessary for the participation in that pluralism by the individual citizens.
It may be argued that there are compulsory public sector bargaining laws in many states and that public order has not broken down. This also misses the point. Every time that we elect representatives to run the public's business and they cannot carry out their programs because of opposition from public sector unions, sovereignty has broken down and we have all lost.
That said, let's take a look at the nature and basic premises of unionism and American labor policy.
The Nature of Unionism
Unions view the employer-employee relationship as an adversarial one. The unions believe, or at least want their members to think, that employers are by their nature exploitative and that without the collective power of the union, the individual unorganized employee is helpless against the various forms of capital formation which employers represent.
While this may be true in the private sector, there is no reason to believe that it would be true in the public sector. The private sector is governed by the economic incentive known as the profit motive. This system of economics has provided Americans with more goods and services and a higher standard of living than any other economic system in the world, but it is not applicable to many areas of the public sector of our economy. Competition and the profit motive are at the heart of the union contention that employers are exploitative, and that viewpoint leads the unions to an adversarial relationship.
The absence of competition and the profit motive should cause us to then ask whether an adversarial relationship is necessary or desirable in public sector employer-employee relations. Government is in the business of providing services. Providing these services well is what gains votes, the bottom line in politics. To do this requires well trained and reasonably well satisfied employees. Government is in competition with the private sector to hire these workers. This gives government ample incentives to treat employees well and compensate them fairly. In fact, it is likely that public officials, both elected and appointed, will find themselves as allies with government workers rather than adversaries in many instances.
Unions insist upon a monopoly in representation. If a majority of employees in a bargaining unit desires representation by a union, the union then imposes its representation on the minority. In the private sector this is harmful to the interests of some employees, but in the public sector it results in a system contrary to the fundamental guarantee of liberty under the Constitution. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees citizens the right to petition the government. Granting unions the exclusive right to represent government employees in their employment relationships with the government denies public workers this right in one of the most basic areas of concern--their jobs.
"The effect of giving unions monopoly bargaining power is to make the union the workers' economic sovereign."
The effect of giving unions monopoly bargaining power is to make the union the workers' economic sovereign. The union decides the terms and conditions under which an employer may offer employment, and the union has the exclusive right to represent employees in grievances. This puts the public employee in the situation of having two sovereigns, the government and the union.
In theory, collective bargaining brings the employer and the employees to the bargaining table as equals. This is a concept appropriate only to the private sector. Government, because of its sovereign nature, is in great peril when it recognizes any small special interest group as its equal. A truly equal relationship causes broad public concern about the effectiveness of representative government, yet a less than equal role for the unions causes frustration for employees who have been led to expect too much from unionism. The only truly satisfactory situation for the union is that of superiority. Such a situation, of course, causes widespread voter/taxpayer dissatisfaction with government.
This brings us to the final element in the nature of collective bargaining-impasses. In collective bargaining it is the role of the unions to make demands and the role of management to respond to those demands. At some point management is bound to find itself unable to satisfy all the union demands. When an impasse occurs, the union must have some means of enforcing its demands. The traditional means of response to management recalcitrance is to threaten a strike.
"In the public sector the strike is a political weapon."
In the private sector the strike is an economic weapon. The employer faces economic losses through lack of business, and the employee faces economic losses through loss of wages. If there is a strike at one provider of a good or service, consumers - the public - can shift to another provider or not purchase at all.
In the public sector the strike is a political weapon. The employer does not suffer an economic loss and in many cases, particularly in education where most public sector strikes occur, neither does the employee.
Because of its political impact, the public sector strike is disruptive of the normal political process. Under normal circumstances, divergent interest groups within society, all of whom have a legitimate interest in public policy questions, exert pressure from various directions on elected representatives. Of these groups, a union of public workers is the only group which has the power, if not the legal right, to unilaterally deprive the rest of society of an essential service. Once this occurs, divergent political forces show a strong tendency to coalesce into a unified voice demanding a restoration of service.
The only way to restore the service, in most instances, is to give in to the union's demands. Thus the union, by using a strike or the threat of a strike, can dominate the decision process and control the size, cost, and quality of government service.
The proponents of unionism and collective bargaining in the public sector based on the private sector model ignored the essential differences between the decision making processes in the two sectors and the conflicts inherent between the nature of unionism and the nature of government.
An even better appreciation for the full ramifications of this problem can be found in studying the conflicts between unionism and the public interest.
The Public Interest
In order to fully appreciate the case against public sector unionism, it is important to understand why public sector collective bargaining is contrary to the public interest.
To do this, we must determine what is the public interest in public employment. This may prove to be many things to many people, but there should be universal agreement that it includes the following:
- A peaceful, stable employer-employee relationship;
- Protection of the rights of all public employees;
- Protection of the right of the people through their elected representatives to control government policy and the cost of government;
- Providing governmental services in the most efficient and orderly manner possible.
Based on any objective standard, collective bargaining, as it has developed in the industrial or private sector of America's economy, does not enhance any of the above in the public sector.
"Compulsory collective bargaining is destructive of a peaceful, stable employer-employee relationship."
In 1959 Wisconsin was the first state to enact compulsory public sector bargaining legislation. Since then more than forty states have followed suit in one form or another. The proponents of bargaining were astute. They knew that if they told the public that unionism and bargaining in the public sector were intended to give unions a disproportionate amount of influence in the decision making process, no one would have bought the idea. So they talked in terms of equity and ensuring harmonious employer-employee relations. On both scores the results of compulsory public sector bargaining have not only failed to fulfill their promise but have had an effect completely contrary to their intended purpose. As a result, public employees are increasingly hostile to their employers, and there is increasing public hostility toward public workers.
The imposition of collective bargaining on public sector employer-employee relations results in an increase in strike activity. In 1958, before the passage of the first public sector collective bargaining law, there were 15 strikes against government. By 1980, after thirty-seven states had enacted compulsory public sector bargaining legislation covering one or more groups of public employees, there were 536 strikes.
After President Ronald Reagan's firm handling of the PATCO strike in 1981 the number of strikes against government declined by about 50% and the Bureau of Labor Statistics ceased reporting on strikes in the public sector, making further analysis of this issue impossible. But, it is worth noting that between the period 1958 to 1980 in no case did passage of a public sector bargaining law result in a decrease in strike activity.
Compulsory collective bargaining is destructive of a peaceful, stable employer-employee relationship. This is true statistically, from the facts available from areas which have experimented with it, and can be deduced from the very nature of the collective bargaining process.
But, the proponents of compulsory public sector collective bargaining have argued that such laws would serve to reduce public sector strike activity. They claim that forcing government to recognize and bargain with unions would remove the cause of strikes by providing formal channels for the resolution of differences.
It is claimed that bargaining legislation, by reducing the number of recognition strikes, would result in a net reduction in public sector strike activity. Jack Stieber, author of a Brookings Institution study entitled Public Employee Unionism, is often cited out of context to support this contention.
Clearly, there is little relationship between the incidence of government strikes and state laws regulating labor relations in public employment. Michigan, one of the three states with the largest number of strikes, has had a comprehensive law since 1965, while Ohio and Illinois, the other two, have no state statute providing collective bargaining for public employees. Other state patterns are similarly inconclusive. The one effect of laws that can be documented is that they reduce greatly the number of strikes over the issue of union recognition....
In fact, Stieber recognizes the true relationship between bargaining laws and strikes. The rest of the text indicates this:
But other issues, particularly wages, have apparentlyincreased the number of strikes sufficiently to more than compensate for the elimination of union recognition as an important issue in states with public employment laws.(Emphasis added)
"In states which have adopted compulsory public sector bargaining laws, there is a tremendous increase in the number of strikes whether legal or illegal."
The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor began to keep detailed statistics on public sector strike activity in 1958. This database allows us to examine strike activity before and after enactment of bargaining legislation.
A study of this data covering all strikes against government from 1958 to 1980 show that in most states which have adopted compulsory public sector bargaining laws, there is a tremendous increase in the number of strikes -- whether legal or illegal.
A comparison of strikes before and after the enactment of a public sector bargaining law shows a correlation between passage of such laws and a fourfold increase in strike activity on a national average. These figures are dramatized by examples such as Michigan where there was one strike against government between 1958 and 1964. In 1965 a public sector collective bargaining law was enacted which made strikes illegal. Between 1965 and 1980 there were 759 strikes against government in Michigan. In Pennsylvania there were 72 strikes in the twelve years prior to the passage of a compulsory public sector collective bargaining law which legalized strikes in 1970, and 767 strikes in the eleven years followmg enactment.
On a national average, there have been 1.34 public sector strikes per year in states prior to passage of compulsory public sector bargaining laws and an average of 5.00 strikes per year after passage of such laws.
Unions in the private sector speak of equity in terms of the workers "fair share" of the value of production or of profits. No such measure is available to the public sector worker.
If we define equity for public sector workers as compensation comparable to their counterparts in the private sector, it is easily demonstrable that unionism and collective bargaining have as a natural consequence disequity rather than equity.
In the private sector there is little argument that a unionized worker earns more than a nonumonized worker doing the same work. Despite the obvious fact that our national labor law gives considerable advantages to unions in organizing campaigns, only about 11 percent of the workers employed in the private sector have elected to be represented by unions.
Since unionism is more concentrated in the basic industries where employment is in larger units, it is safe to say that far less than 11 percent of the employers offer employment under the terms of a union contract. The average compensation for work in the private sector is certain to be less than the union negotiated wage. If a consequence of unionism is higher than average pay, how can this be called equity?
That unionism has the same impact in the public sector is shown by postal wage activity since passage of the postal Reorganization Act in 1967. In 1970 the average postal worker earned $7,777 per year, while the average manufacturing worker in the private sector earned $7,440 per year. The Reorganization Act imposed the NLRA on employer-employee relations in the postal service, ignoring the monopoly essential/political/nature of the service. (The postal service work force is very heavily unionized.) By 1976 the average pay of a postal worker had risen 69 percent to $13,127, while the average manufacturing worker's wage had increased only 57 percent to $11,703.
Rising public discontent has focused on the public employee, while public employees increasingly take a hostile attitude toward the public. Because public sector collective bargaining is a sacrosanct institution and is very poorly understood by both groups, it is not recognized as the source of the problem.
Employee Rights v. Union Privileges
It is also a widely held misconception that compulsory public sector bargaining laws somehow guarantee "rights" to public employees. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, close examination reveals that, if anything, the opposite is true and that compulsory public sector bargaining laws give powers and privileges to unions at the expense of the rights of individual public employees.
Public employees, like all American citizens, have the right to join a union. This is a right protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. No law is needed to guarantee it and no law can violate it. Beyond this, all the so-called rights contained in compulsory bargaining laws are union rights, not employee rights.
"Compulsory public sector bargaining laws give powers and privileges to unions at the expense of the rights of individual public employees."
To illustrate this point, almost without exception, such laws require that the union be the sole or exclusive representative of all the employees in a unit. This denies employees the right to represent themselves individually or to be represented by another organization of their own choosing. This monopoly power granted to the union is usually carried to the point of denying the individual employee the right to meet with the employer to discuss a grievance unless the union representative is given the opportunity to be present.
Unions commonly exploit their monopoly bargaining power by insisting that because they are "forced" to represent all employees, that all employees, having lost the right of representation to the union, should be forced to join or support the union as a condition of employment. This violates each employee's right to freedom of association and gives the union greatly increased power in determining the employment destinies of the employees.
"Public sector collective bargaining makes public employees super citizens' and relegates the rest of the public to second class status."
Granting unions monopoly bargaining privileges and the power to compel membership or support cannot be construed as guaranteeing any "rights" to public employees.
The proponents of compulsory public sector collective bargaining laws play upon the public's sense of fair play by saying that denial of public employees' right to collective bargaining makes them "second class citizens." There is no "right" to collective bargaining in either the private or public sector. The U.S. Supreme Court has been quite clear about this in several decisions.
Rather than the lack of collective bargaining privileges for public sector unions making public employees second class citizens, the existence of public sector collective bargaining makes public employees "super citizens" and relegates the rest of the public to second class status.
Nor can it be said that public sector bargaining laws protect the right of the public to control government policies and costs through its elected representatives.
The most fundamental violation of this principle is inherent in the very nature of the laws and leads to their designation as "compulsory" bargaining laws.
Public sector bargaining laws "compel" elected public officials to recognize and bargain with unions. This immediately deprives the representatives of the people of the power to determine whether such recognition and bargaining are, in fact, in the public interest.
"Collective bargaining laws create an adversary relationship between union and employer."
This compulsion to bargain is normally defined as an obligation to bargain "in good faith." There is no clear definition of "good faith," but experience with similar provisions in other laws leads to the conclusion that, despite legislative language to the contrary, the courts have ruled that in order to bargain "in good faith," the employer must be willing to grant some concessions to unions' demands. Thus, the elected official is in double jeopardy; not only must he bargain, he must make concessions.
By making the union a full and equal partner at the bargaining table, compulsory public sector bargaining laws deprive the public of its right to participate in policy making. This point was emphasized in a US District Court opinion which upheld the constitutionality of a North Carolina law, which declared public sector union contracts to be void. The Court said:
Moreover, to the extent that which public employees gain power through recognition and collective bargaining, other interest groups with a right to a voice in the running of the government may be left out of vital political decisions. Thus the granting of collective bargaining rights to public employees involves important matters fundamental to our democratic form of government. The setting of goals and making policy decisions are rights inuring to each citizen. All citizens have the right to associate in groups to advocate their special interests to the government. It is something entirely different to grant any one interest group special status and access to the decision-making process.
By their very nature, collective bargaining laws create an adversary relationship between union and employer. This makes strife inevitable. Most public sector bargaining laws, in the realization that they are creating problems, provide for a system of impasse resolution. Usually, this takes the form of mediation, fact finding and arbitration. These systems further serve to deprive the elected representatives of the people of their responsibilities.
The unions believe that no employer will seriously consider a union demand, if it knows that the union has no power to enforce it. To enforce their demands, unions must have the power to strike. As Sylvester Petro put it, "Collective bargaining unsupported by the strike is a sham institution; government whose employees may strike is no less a sham." Another scholar from the opposite side of the ideological spectrum on the question of unionism, Theodore Kheel, expressed the same sentiment, "Collective bargaining and strikes are like Siamese twins."
"Thus, public sector strikes enjoy a heightened degree of effectiveness not shared by private sector work stoppages."
Most concern about strikes in the public sector focuses around the deprivation of public services. There is no doubt that this is a very real problem, but it distracts attention from an even more important consideration. Strikes against government are disruptive of the normal political process because they tend to coalesce divergent political views for a brief time into a single demand for the restoration of public service. This gives the union disproportionate power and results in government decisions which have short-term political benefits and disastrous long term consequences.
The usual public reaction to the strike is pressure on elected officials to restore the disrupted service. Thus, the victims become the unwitting ally of the union. If the cost of restoring the disrupted service is capitulation to union demands, elected officials, caught between angry strikers and an angry public, usually must do so. Thus, public sector strikes enjoy a heightened degree of effectiveness not shared by private sector work stoppages.
"Therefore, collective bargaining as an institution is inappropriate to government."
Professors Harry H. Wellington and Ralph D. Winter, in their Brookings Institution Study, "The Unions and the Cities," focus on this problem concerning the strike weapon:
The trouble is that if unions are able to withhold labor -- to strike -- as well as to employ the usual methods of political pressure, they may possess a disproportionate share of effective power in the process of decision. Collective bargaining would then be so effective a pressure as to skew the results of the 'normal' American political process.
...Since interest groups other than public employees, with conflicting claims on municipal government, do not, as a general proposition, have anything approaching the effectiveness of the strike -- or at least cannot maintain that relative degree of power over the long run -- they may be put at a significant competitive disadvantage in the political process.
"Binding arbitration, by the very nature of the process, is a 'no lose' proposition for the unions."
There is no doubt that collective bargaining means strikes. There is also little question that strikes against government are intolerable. Therefore, collective bargaining as an institution is inappropriate to government.
Some states in an effort to avoid this problem have instituted compulsory binding arbitration as a means of resolving labor disputes in the public sector. If anything, binding arbitration is worse than strikes.
Strikes destroy democratic government by giving the public sector union - a very small special interest group - disproportionate influence and therefore effective control of the public decision making process. Binding arbitration completely removes elected officials from the process.
Binding arbitration, by the very nature of the process, is a "no lose" proposition for the unions. An arbitrator will never award a settlement that is anything less than management's final offer. The union is therefore able to obtain everything possible through the bargaining process aided by its political influence and then go to arbitration knowing that it can do no worse.
In many states which have enacted binding arbitration laws there are active movements to repeal them. But repeal is difficult because the collective bargaining laws greatly increase the political power of the unions.
State legislators often approve binding arbitration because its effect is felt at the local government level. One striking example of this is in Michigan where State Senator Coleman Young was the sponsor of a binding arbitration law. Later, as the Mayor of Detroit, Young said,
"We know that compulsory arbitration has been a failure. Slowly, inexorably, compulsory arbitration destroys sensible fiscal management." Arbitration awards "have caused more damage to the public service in Detroit than the strikes they were designed to prevent."
Clearly, laws which compel elected officials to recognize and bargain with unions in no way serve to protect the right of the citizen-taxpayer to control their government.
Finally, do compulsory public sector bargaining laws in any way promote more efficient or orderly delivery of public services?
As already noted, there is a strong and direct correlation between collective bargaining and strikes which disrupt public services.
Beyond this, union contracts tie the hands of elected officials and make it impossible for them to respond in a timely fashion to economic or natural disasters and emergencies. One only need look at New York City's financial default in the 1970's to see how completely destructive absolute power in the hands of public sector unions can be.
In addition, public sector bargaining tends to telescope the government decision-making process.
Public sector union contracts frequently deal with subjects beyond wages, hours, terms and other conditions of employment. These have a direct impact on a very broad variety of public policies.
It is the nature of negotiations to make concessions and compromises when faced with a deadline. As a result, many contract agreements are made at the last moment.
The elected representatives of the people are then faced with the need to consider, in a very brief time, a document which will effect a wide range of other decisions. There is not time under these circumstances for public review and for informed comment from other interest groups.
Most public sector bargaining bills, in realization of the fact that they create more problems than they solve, provide for the establishment of a public employment relations board to resolve problems which arise under the law. These boards are cumbersome new bureaucracies which greatly increase government costs. They are given broad regulatory powers from which locally elected public officials have little or no recourse.
"No matter what the real intent of these laws, by any objective standard they are not in the public interest."
Public sector bargaining laws also lead to such inefficient practices as the collection of union dues at the tax payers' expense and giving union officials, who are public employees, time off at full pay while engaged in union activities.
It is clear, therefore, that no matter what the real intent of these laws, by any objective standard they are not in the public interest. They represent an expression of the selfish self-interest of public sector union organizers and, indirectly, the interest of the politicians who enact them in order to curry favor with the union's political operatives.
Since public sector collective bargaining is so contrary to the public interest, it is also essential to understand how it became so widespread. Actually, public sector collective bargaining is a relatively new phenomenon.
In the middle of the 1950s some academicians began to toy with the idea that collective bargaining might lead to more harmonious and equitable employer-employee relationships in the public sector.
In 1955 George Meany, the President of the AFL-CIO, said, "It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government."
And as late as 1959 the AFL-CIO Executive Council was on record as believing that, "in terms of accepted collective bargaining procedures government workers have no right beyond the authority to petition Congress - a right available to every citizen."
At about the same time, however, umon membership as a percentage of the work force began to decline and the number of people employed by government began to grow.
Union officials saw the emerging public sector as the new growth industry to replace the dues dollars and political clout they were losing from their decline in the private sector.
In 1958 public sector union membership was only 1,035,000 or 12% of a work force of about 8.5 million. At that time the private sector work force was about 43 million and union membership was 16,933,000 or 39%.
In the next two decades, the federal government and most states instituted cornpulsory public sector bargaining schemes. In addition, unions found that they could use their political power to prevent any employer resistance to union organization in the public sector at the local level once a state enacted a compulsory public sector collective bargaining law.
Between 1958 and 1978 the public sector work force grew by 83% while the private sector work force grew by only 39%. Public sector union membership grew to 6,019,000 which was 39% of a public sector work force by then numbering 15,630,000. By 1978 private sector union membership had risen to 18,116,000 but was only 20% of the work force.
The decision to push for compulsory public sector bargaining laws was indeed a profitable one for the unions. On the other hand it was a failure for those who thought that it would lead to better government.
In 1978, Cornell University law professor, Robert S. Summers, concluded his monograph entitled Collective Bargaining and Public Benefit Conferral: A Jurisprudential Critique by saying,
Collective bargaining and the process of democratic public benefit conferral are not felicitous bedfellows. While it is possible to shore up these processes through the promulgation of codes for neutrals (and through other reforms), the extent its unhappy effects can be reduced or ameliorated by these means is limited. Abandonment of bargaining is necessary, for this and other reasons.
Dr. Myron Lieberman, whose book Education as a Profession in 1956 was one of the first to advocate collective bargaining for teachers and who was at one time a candidate for the presidency of the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, later became a collective bargaining practitioner. In his 1980 book entitled Public-Sector Bargaining, Lieberman turns full circle saying,
It would be desirable to have a new organizational structure to replace public sector unionism, but such a structure is not required to justify deunionizing public employment... The choice is not between public-sector bargaining and something better. Without in any way idealizing what preceded public-sector bargaining, it was better.
But, even if one wanted to, it is impossible to go back to the way things were before public sector collective bargaining. It is time to move ahead. The collective bargaining laws have given enormous political power to the public sector unions. At the present time repeal of these laws, no matter how desirable, is not feasible.
It is time for the public officials and the people they serve to devise new strategies for doing things a better way and going beyond public sector uniomsm.
Beyond Public Sector Unionism
Developments in public sector labor relations have been based upon and have followed the private sector model. Unionism in the private sector is in decline and has been so since 1954. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 1995 union membership constituted 10.3% of the private sector work force--down from a high of almost 40% in 1954.1
Private sector unionism went through an evolutionary process which is repeating itself in the public sector.
Unionism established itself in the private sector over a long period beginning at different times in different industries. This includes the evolution of craft guilds into labor unions. In many instances because of the historic master-journeyman-apprentice relationship, and because unions maintained high standards, employers found voluntary cooperation with unions to be to their advantage. The early history of the Operating Engineers union is a good example of this. It was not uncommon for employers to insist that Operating Engineer union members run the boiler rooms in their plants and they quite gladly gave the union "closed shop" contracts.
As unionism grew beyond the initial stage and sought contracts on a less than mutually beneficial basis, employers engaged in resistance. Anti-union campaigns and the so-called "yellow dog" contract--a contract under which an employee agreed not to become a union member as a condition of employment were typical of this stage. During this stage, employers also encouraged and established "company unions" -- unions which were controlled by, or at the least, friendly to the interests of the employer.
The next stage is characterized by government support, the passage of laws and the establishment of regulatory bodies which were intended to encourage the expansion of unionism and collective bargaining throughout the work force.
It is an accident of history that in the United States the early years of this period coincided with World War II and the Korean War. During these wars, war labor boards, in order to insure continued productivity, imposed union relationships, including union shops, on many employers.
The nation's first labor law was the Railway Labor Act of 1926, but its application was limited to a single industry, and it did not sanction any form of compulsory unionism.
It was the passage of the Wagner Act, the first National Labor Relations Act, in 1935 which extended government support of unionism and collective bargaining to most places of employment. This law and its successor, the Taft-Hartley Act, exempted both public employment and agriculture from its coverage. The Wagner Act included a sanction for the "closed shop" which was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1937.2
There is no way of knowing what the impact of the Wagner Act would have been in the absence of the war labor boards. Union penetration in the total work force, both private and public, which had been running at a fairly constant percentage for many years, was about 13% in 1935. By 1941 this had increased to almost 28%. At the end of World War II it was 35.5% and began to decline, but the Korean War gave it another boost until 1954 when it reached 34.7%. After this the decline became permanent.
In 1958 the Bureau of Labor Statistics began to keep track of public sector union membership and work force penetration as a separate category. The table on the following page shows the changes in the work force and union penetration between 1958 and 1995.
The modern union movement blames much of its present decline on management's efforts to "bust the unions." The decline of unionism is due to a variety of factors including, but not limited to, the changing composition of the work force, the general level of educational attainment of the work force, the increasing role of women in the work force and legislated protections of the rights of workers.
No matter what factors were involved, the degree to which unions raised the price of labor as a factor in production above market rates contributed to the acceleration of the impact of each factor.
Union Membership as % of Work Force
(Numbers in thousands)
% Union Members
% Union Members
% Union Members
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1958 figures based on employees in nonagricultural establishments, 1995 figures based on employed wage and salary workers.
This union influence reflected not just in wages but in work rules the cost of the negotiating process and the cost of the threat or reality of strikes.
In another sense the unions were responsible for their decline by lobbying for the passage of legislation to guarantee workers protections previously only available under umon contract.
In theory, one might have supposed that by imposing the cost of these benefits universally on employers through federal law, the unions would make unionized employers more competitive and decrease resistance to unions. The lessened appeal of unionism to workers seems to have been a bigger influence. A recent study shows that the union wage differential is the largest single motivating factor in employer resistance and that employer resistance is the largest single factor in remaining nonunion (Freeman 1986).
There is no doubt that management in the private sector has realized that it is in its interest to move beyond unionism where possible and has set about to create an employer-employee relations climate in which unionism as we know it is outmoded and unnecessary. While there has always been union avoidance to one degree or another, its success and its prominence is a relatively recent phenomenon.
A policy of going beyond unionism could only succeed once unions were in decline. The decline was so much a creature of the union's own doing that making unions unnecessary was merely the employer's response to the situation which the union had created.
This sort of activity has taken many forms which are characterized by programs by employers to create an employer-employee relations environment where the majority of workers do not perceive the need for union representation, or even that they are better off without union representation.
The development of unionism in the public sector differs somewhat from that in the private sector but it is also similar. Most public sector unions evolved from employee associations. Many of these associations were fraternal in nature. Others were so all-encompassing that they tended to be dominated by people in top management positions.
"In the public sector votes, rather than dollars, are the bottom line."
The National Education Association, for example, started out as a very broad organization encompassing all elements of the education community. This is analogous to the guild phase of unionism.
The senior education officials, usually school super intendents, who dominated the NEA sought a more activist role for it in representing teacher interests in response to a perceived threat from "the union" -- the American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO. At that time NEA was the equivalent of a "company union."
Government support in the form of compulsory public sector collective bargaining laws ultimately turned the NEA into a full blown union.
Just as union excesses resulted in its demise in the private sector and forced management find a better way, so are the same forces at work in the public sector.
"A monopoly dealing with a cartel of labor has little problem passing on the costs inefficiencies and failures to the consumers."
Nowhere is this more evident than in the field of public education. It, of course, must be recognized that the public sector is different from the private sector in several fundamental respects.
In the public sector, votes, rather than dollars, are the bottom line. In most instances where union political power (votes) was an inhibiting factor in decisions about opposing the unionization of public employees, either in the case of a state legislature considering mandatory public sector collective bargaining legislation or in the case of a local public body considering whether to resist the unionization of its own employees, it was because the politicians feared the political consequence of being perceived as anti-union by the broader union community, including the private sector unions, rather than the political power of any public sector union constituency.
This pressure was felt not just by elected officials, but by professional managers of public agencies. It is common practice for public agencies to have policies which prohibit managers from doing anything which might be construed as opposing the unionization of the agencies' employees.
The decline of private sector union membership and political influence will open doors for public sector management to take a more realistic view of the need to challenge unionism.
Another extremely important difference between the public and private sector is that the public sector is, in most instances, a monopoly.
A monopoly dealing with a cartel of labor has little problem passing on the cost inefficiencies and failures to the consumers, particularly when the consumers are forced to pay whether they use or benefit from the service.
A good example of the symbiotic relationship between a monopoly and a labor cartel was the airline industry. Government control of routes and rates prevented competition in the industry. Deregulation created a competitive environment in which the cartel costs of labor could no longer be passed on to the consumer. Unionism in the airline industry declined rapidly.
The excesses of public sector unions have already forced changes which have begun its decline. Public sector union penetration in the work force peaked in 1976 at 39.8% (Troy 1984) 3 and, as mentioned above, is presently at 38.7%.
The next logical step is for public sector management to take steps to move beyond unionism. But, to create an environment where this can happen, competition is necessary.
Competition need not be direct. In public education, it is not limited to the choice between public and private schools or giving public school clients a choice of public schools within a system. Contracting for educational services is another alternative just as are efforts by industry to educate the products of the public education system.
Technological advances have already made it possible for educators to have simultaneous interactive relationships with classes all across the country. The rising cost of teacher salaries combined with severe shortages of teachers in certain specialties will soon make such alternatives economically attractive.
When these things occur, unions will stand out as major obstacles to advances and education managers and elected officials will find union avoidance both economically and politically attractive.
A good example of the same phenomenon is now taking place in the postal services, where unions are entrenched.
The U.S. Postal Service has a legal monopoly on mail delivery. Union excesses have forced up the cost and slowed the service to the point that alternative forms of competition such as fax machines, electronic data transfer and express delivery services have become increasingly attractive.
The postal service has installed labor saving devices which are made ineffective by union contract provisions. The postal service response has been to contract out operations so that the work can be done efficiently by people other than postal service employees.
"Postal Service management's only logical alternative is to find a better way to work without unions."
The postal unions have responded by boycott threats which have only been effective in certain heavily unionized areas because of support from non-postal unions.
Postal Service management's only logical alternative is to find a better way to work without unions. This will be increasingly politically attractive as rates increase and service worsens.
The unions, of course, are well aware of this problem and are doing what they can to prevent competition in any form. But, the forces of change at work in society make the expansion of competition in the provision of public services inevitable.
These forces are clearly at work in the field of public education. The rapid advance of technological change has
The present system dominated by unions is simply not capable of changing fast enough to keep up.
"The present system dominated by unions is simply not capable of changing fast enough to keep up."
Society recognizes a different value between a recreation supervisor and a computer programmer even though they may have the same level of education and work the same hours. A union, for internal political reasons, cannot afford to recognize a different value between a physical education teacher and a computer science teacher.
A union opposed to pay scales which recognize the different value of different knowledge and the different value of relative levels of teaching skills is not able to function in this changing environment.
There is ample evidence that the growth of teacher unions was a factor in the decline of the quality of public education. The dramatic rise in teacher union membership and collective bargaining in public education began in 1962. By 1976 teacher union membership had more than doubled. The decline in SAT scores began in 1963 and continued throughout this period.
Yet all of the studies on the state of public education in America and the challenges it faces in the future completely ignore the question of the union role in the decline of quality.
This is not because educators are unaware of the unions' influence but because the unions' political influence within the education establishment is so strong that no such study or report can be accepted without union participation and the unions' quid pro quo for participation is that the role of unions is a taboo subject.
It might appear at first blush that so long as there are state laws which require union recognition and collective bargaining combined with impasse resolution processes increasingly culminating in binding arbitration, there is little which can be done short of repeal of these laws.
The lessons of the private sector experience belie this appearance. As noted above, public sector collective bargaining laws are based on the private sector model. The economics and politics of the marketplace coupled with the decline of unionism brought about changes in private sector policies toward unionism without any changes or repeal of the National Labor Relations Act.
Even with a collective bargaining relationship imposed by state law, there are many potential avenues for moving beyond unionism in the public sector and, again, particularly in public education.
"The fact that employees are union members or are represented by a union does not mean that the employees like or support the union."
The increasing emphasis on decentralizing control of public services characterized by "site based management" and "quality of work groups" offers fertile ground for moving beyond unionism. Union propaganda stresses the role of unions in "empowering" workers. Decentralizing control will truly empower workers and make union contract provisions obstacles to worker satisfaction and productivity.
A perfect example of this is available from Indiana. The state legislature enacted an education reform program called 21st Century. Part of this program included decentralizing the public school decision making process and the establishment of school committees which included school employee, parent and community representatives.
After its enactment the Indiana State Teachers Association warned its local bargaining agents that the implementation of 21st Century would result in strife between the union and its members and urged them to secure compulsory agency shop agreements in their next contracts so that these teachers would be forced to continue to financially support the union.
The fact that employees are union members or are represented by a union does not mean that the employees like or support the union. A study by the Survey Research Center seems to indicate that union members are more concerned about what their union is doing than what their employer is doing. (Lipset 1986)
It is important to keep in mind the impression employees get about management's attitude about unions. There are several ways in which employees may get the impression that management approves of union activity.
"This gives employees the impression that management encourages support of the union and it greatly increases union income.
In many areas management still regards "membership in a professional organization" as a positive factor in evaluating employee job performance. When applied to union membership this sends the wrong signal to the employees.
Unless it is absolutely required by law, management should strongly resist giving unions dues check-off privileges. This gives employees the impression that management encourages support of the union and it greatly increases union income. In several instances on record, withdrawal of dues check-off privileges has resulted in substantially reduced union membership. It is not so hard for union organizers to pressure an employee into signing a check-off authorization once as it is to collect dues each month.
Union access to internal communication systems such as teacher mail boxes in the schools should also be avoided. It gives the employees the wrong impression about the unions legitimacy and facilitates the union's communications in its attacks on management.
Another means of creating a new opinion environment among employees is to keep them aware of union problems. Unions, like other institutions, suffer from corruption and internal strife. Keeping employees aware of these problems can put the unions on the defensive.
Many grievances are not grievances by employees against management so much as they are by employees against other employees. For example, if the grievance is about management's decision to promote or transfer an employee, it is really a question of why one employee was promoted or transferred rather than another. Creating a new environment in which unions are outdated can include letting employees know that when the union pursues such a grievance it is really against the employee, not management.
...a public employee can only be required to pay a union representative for the actual cost of representation..."
Unions in their representation function spend an inordinate amount of time defending the interest of employees who are in trouble for one reason or another. The employee most in need of representation is the one too frequently absent or whose behavior and relationship with coworkers results in problems.
The majority of employees are harmed by these few trouble makers or slackers. Making unions unnecessary can include a program to keep employees aware of the unions' role in the defense of these workers.
In public education professional liability insurance is a very strong incentive for union participation. Teachers are told in college and by their union in the work place that this coverage is very important. It is provided to them as a benefit by the union out of union dues. This insurance is very inexpensive. It could be provided by the school employer at little cost and remove an incentive for employee participation in a union.
Several studies have shown that the political views of union leadership at the national level are not in sync with the majority of union members. Keeping employees aware of these policies when they are controversial helps create a climate of opinion suspicious of the unions' motives.
Even though bargaining laws require that unions be the exclusive representative of bargaining unit members in negotiations, there are many opportunities to involve employees in work place concerns which do not involve negotiations on terms and conditions of employment. Channeling such involvement through mechanisms other than the union can show employees how much can be achieved through cooperative rather than adversarial processes. This can be particularly useful when the cooperative solution to a work place concern runs counter to the union's self interest and the union is forced to explain to its own members why they are wrong.
Many public officials have told me that any attempt to communicate with employees outside the collective bargaining process draws an immediate filing of an unfair labor practice complaint by the union for bargaining with other than the exclusive representative. In one case putting a suggestion box in a fire house brought such a charge.
As noted above, most state public sector collective bargaining laws are based on the National Labor Relations Act. Many state public employee relations boards give significant weight to National Labor Relations Board decisions in making decisions about unfair labor practices.
Several NLRB decisions seem to indicate that "labor-management" collaboration is illegal under the NLRA. In recent decisions the NLRB has taken pains to make it clear that not all cooperation is illegal and has set forth specific guidelines for legal cooperative activity. In the initial stages of development, it is the willingness to communicate outside union channels rather than the precise method or topic that is important.
For far too long, public sector unions have violated laws and court orders with virtual impunity in pursuit of power. It is all too common to see public sector unions engage in blatant violations of the law and to offer as their defense, "We don't want to be doing this but we're doing it for the (fill in the blank)." If it's an illegal teacher strike, you can fill in the blank with "children." If it's a hospital strike, you can fill in the blank with "patients." They never say they are doing it for personal gain.
"It is high time that public officials took a page out of the unions' book by not being intimidated by union threats of unfair labor practice charges..."
Yet, when a public official even considers action that might be considered "anti union," the union threatens to file an unfair labor practice charge and the mere threat of such a charge is usually sufficient to deter the action.
There are many reasons for this. First is public misunderstanding. Too many people regard the filing of a charge as proof of guilt. Then, you have the cost of defending against the charge. The union already has attorneys in the state capital to pursue the charge with the public employee relations board, but the public entity, especially a small public entity, would have to spend a disproportionate amount of its budget sending an attorney to defend the charge. And, if they do, the union immediately attacks the public officials for "wasting the taxpayer's money defending their 'illegal' action."
Saul Alinsky, the radical leftist who trained so many union organizers, told his students that they mus t "make the enemy live up to their own book of rules." This tactic gives the unions a big advantage.
It is high time that public officials took a page out of the unions' book by not being intimidated by union threats of unfair labor practice charges and in extreme cases deliberately committing unfair labor practices when it is in the public interest. They should then go public with statements about the matter like "We don't really want to do this but, we're doing it for the (fill in the blank)."
They should pave the way for such action by communicating in advance about it with community opinion leaders like newspaper editors so that when the union files the charge, there won't be an assumption of guilt and the public will understand that it is necessary to expend the funds to defend against the charge.
On the subject of public employee relations board decisions, it must also be noted that unions frequently "pick on" smaller government units which do not have the resources to vigorously defend their interests or those with elected members who are very sympathetic to union interests when seeking board decisions to serve as precedents in their dealings with governments which have greater resources or whose elected officials are less sympathetic.
Management in the public sector must be alert to such union activity and be prepared to defend its interests, even when it is not directly a party in the dispute. Such actions may provide additional opportunities to communicate with employees about the problem of unionism.
Another area which should offer a fruitful ground for moving beyond unionism is the U.S. Supreme Court's decisions in a series of cases beginning with Abood (1976) and culminating in Lehnert (1991).
These decisions provide that a public employee can only be required to pay a union representative for the actual cost of representation and give employees due process rights in the determination of the size of the fee the union can charge.
After the decision, Abood which provided that nonmembers--agency fee payers--could not be charged for nonrepresentation costs, the unions were left in control of the determination of the amount. Generally, they said that 5% of dues were spent for nonrepresentation purposes.
For most employees who were not union sympathizers, 5% was not sufficient incentive to invite the wrath of union officialdom by switching from membership to a fee payer status.
The 1986 Hudson decision gave nonmembers due process rights in the determination of the amount of the fee. Due process includes notice of the amount to be charged with sufficient information on the determination, an independently audited statement of the unions finances and the right to resolution of challenges to the size of the fee by a neutral party.
Teacher union dues are quite high by most standards. Several court decisions based on Hudson have shown that a substantial amount of this money is spent for nonrepresentation purposes.
Public employers are liable for damages under Hudson for agreeing to a fee which does not comply with its standards. Often union contracts provide that the public employer will be indemnified by the union for any damages arising from the implementation of an agency shop clause in a contract. These contract provisions may give employers a false sense of security. Several recent court decisions have held that a union may not indemnify an employer for a violation of the due process rights of an employee.
In 1991, in Lehnert v. Ferris Faculty Association the Court established a three-part standard for determining whether a union can charge non members for an expense without impinging upon the non members' first amendment rights:
- Union expenses must be "germane" to collective bargaining;
- The expenses must be for activities that are justified by the government's vital policy interest in labor peace and avoiding "free riders"; and
- The expenses must be for activities that do not significantly add to the burdening of free speech that is inherent in allowing an agency shop or union shop.
It is not unrealistic, based on presently available information, to imagine that a typical agency fee determined in full compliance with Lehnert would be 50% or less of union dues.
Conceivably, the final result of this process would be to leave the union with far less than a majority of full members. The union would then lose interest in the unit and it would be ripe for decertffication.
Providing employees with information about their rights under these decisions and aggressive participation in the process by which the fee is determined, aimed at keeping the fee as low as possible, will lessen the attractiveness of unions in several ways. It will diminish the funds available to the union. It will increase the incentive for employees to convert from full member to agency fee payer status. And, it will further the impression that management is more concerned with the rights of workers than the unions.
"It cannot be overemphasized that being anti-union is not in any way being anti-employee."
The unions are not stupid and they know how much is at stake for them in this matter. It must be anticipated that programs aimed at moving beyond unionism will meet with strong union opposition. It is important, therefore, from the very beginning to build strong community support by sharing information about the negative impact of public sector unionism with business, civic and other community leaders.
It cannot be overemphasized that being anti-union is not in any way being anti-employee. The unions will attempt to portray any attack on the union as an attack on employee interests. Careful preparation and good communication will make such charges unconvincing.
Successful employer-employee relations may require some changes in management processes. One advantage enjoyed by the private sector is that managers are empowered to make many decisions at their own level. The more bureaucratic nature of the public sector frequently results in an inability of management to take actions to resolve problems rapidly.
Unions thrive on problems. Union organizers are schooled in techniques characterized by the slogan, "When you don't have a problem, create one." Where management can move quickly to resolve problems they are not allowed to fester. This denies opportunities to union organizers.
"Most of the knowledge about making unions unnecessary rests in the private sector."
The political side of management, the elected officials, may need to give managers greater decision making authority. An alternative to this which preserves political control of public institutions is for elected officials to become more involved in the day to day workings of the institutions they govern. The movement toward what is referred to a site based management in public education may help resolve the problems caused by bureaucratic slowness in decision making.
Support for moving beyond public sector unionism should come from a variety of sources. Organizations like state and national associations of elected officials and managers could provide information on a regular basis and conduct workshops on the subject at their meetings and conventions.
Most of the knowledge about making unions unnecessary rests in the private sector. Since the private sector relies on the efficient delivery of public service, it should have a strong incentive to arrange cooperative programs to share this knowledge with the public sector.
In the private sector, there are firms which specialize in designing and implementing programs to make unions unnecessary. In many areas, the present political climate might not allow the expenditure of public funds for this purpose. It is conceivable that a local private sector employer's group could make these funds available.
This should be particularly true in the field of public education because business presently spends millions upon millions of dollars every year educating the products of public education and because the largest teacher union, the National Education Association, has a decidedly anti-business bias in its political and ideological activities, which cannot help but in some instances spread down through the organization to the indoctrination of students in the classroom.
The question, thus, is whether present political and administrative management will move ahead with it or whether competition will replace them with others who will.
The above is intended to be suggestive rather than instructive. Public bodies considering a "Beyond Unionism" program would be well advised to consult with legal counsel. If counsel advises that it can't be done, seek a different attorney. The question must not be, "Whether or not?" but "How?"
Union excesses in the public sector, combined with the decline of public sector unions, have made it inevitable that management must find a better way to conduct its relations with its employees and to make the next logical step beyond unionism. The question, thus, is whether present political and administrative management will move ahead with it or whether competition will replace them with others who will.
The percentage of work force figures may differ from source to source depending on what work force definition is used.
Prior to 1981 the Bureau of Labor Statistics used both a "Total labor force" figure and another for "Employees in nonagricultural establishments." As an example of the difference, in 1978 the BLS reported a total labor force of 102,637,000 with a union penetration rate of 19.7% and employees in nonagricultural establishments of 85,763,000 with a union penetration rate of 23.6%.
Union membership figures were derived from reports from unions, which frequently included unemployed and retired members. It must be considered that union voting representation strength at AFL-CIO conventions is based on the size of union membership. Slight variations in the nurnber of reported union members maybe due to internal union political considerations, which have more to do with convention voting strength and per capita dues payments than they do with the actual number of members the union actually has at the time.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released no reports on this subject in 1981 and 1982. In 1983 a new reporting system was established. The defined work force was "Employed wage and salary workers." Union membership figures were determined from household surveys. No attempt has been made to correlate the data prior to 1981 with the data after1983. The post 1983 data is probably a more accurate reflection of the actual extent of union penetration in the work force.
In 1954 there were 49,022,000 employees in nonagricultural establishments of which 7,323,000 were government. Union membership was 17,022,000 of which about 1 million were in the public sector. This would indicate that private sector union penetration was about 38%, which is lower than the 39.5% presented elsewhere in this paper for 1958.
The apparent peak in union penetration in 1954 was due to a decline in the employees figure accompanied by an increase in the union membership figure.
In a "closed shop" a worker must be a union member in order to obtain employment. In a "union shop" a worker may obtain employment without being a member of a union but must join the union within a specified period of time, usually thirty days. A later court decision ruled that even in a union shop actual union membership was not necessary so long as the worker paid the union for representation. The court referred to this is "whittling down union membership to its financial core."
The growth in public sector union membership is sometimes hard to determine because of the distinction between unions and associations. In 1968, in recognition that employee associations in the public sector were acting as unions, the Bureau of Labor Statistics began to include tables on public sector employee association membership in their reports but maintained the dishnction between the two. Much of the apparent growth of public sector union membership in the last fifteen years has come as a result of mergers or affiliations of associations with unions. This has served to inflate the union membership figures without actually adding to the number of employees who were members of organizations which were functioning as labor unions. In 1978 the 260,000 member New York Civil Service Employees Association became a part of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, bringing its membership above the1 million mark. The next year the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 250,000 increase in the number of public sector union members. In 1984 the 97,000 member California State Employees Association affiliated the Service Employees International Union, with AFL-CIO. This affiliation increased SEIU's membership to 847,000.
Freeman, Richard B. (1986). The Effect of Union Wage Differential on Management Opposition and Union Organizing Success. Nashville, Tennessee: The American Economic Review, Vol.76, No.2. (92-96).
Troy, Leo & Sheflin, Neil (1984). The Flow and Ebb of U.S. Public Sector Unionism. Vienna, Virginia: Government Union Reveiw, Vol. 5, No. 2.
Lipset, Seymour Martin (1986). Unions in Transition: Labor Unions in the Public Mind. San Fransisco, California: Institute for Contemporary Studies.
Rules for Radicals
Over the years there have been repeated suggestions that public sector union organizers, especially those associated with the National Education Association, were being trained by Saul Alinsky or by his Training Institute.
Alinsky passed away in 1972. His methods and his ideals succeed him. In his book, "Rules for Radicals," he laid out the guidelines for radical organizers. Very frequently, the tactics used by unions mirror those advocated by Alinsky. It is quite likely that the training of many public sector union organizers includes a crash course based on Alinsky's teachings. Some confirmation of this is contained in an interview with a person who was once an NEA UniServ and the executive director of an NEA state affiliate. He warned:
"To understand the NEA - to understand the union - read Saul Alinsky. If you read "Rules for Radicals," you will understand NEA more profoundly than reading anything else. Because the whole organization was modeled on that kind of behavior which was really begun when NEA used Saul Alinsky as a consultant to train their own staff."
Time and again public officials have described to me their shock and disbelief at what a union had done to them personally during organizing campaigns or labor disputes. I have told them that such activity was entirely predictable because it was almost textbook Alinsky. Their response has generally been that, if they had only known what to expect, they could have prepared for it and taken steps to neutralize its worst effects
Here, therefore, is a thumb nail sketch of some of Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radical, taken from his book by the same name published in 1971 by Vintage Books.
Alinsky emphatically states that the end justifies the means but cautions that extreme means are only justified in certain situations. Here are Alinsky's rules to test whether the means are ethical.
- One's concern with the ethics of means and ends varies inversely with one's personal interest in the issue.
- The judgment of the ethics of means is dependent upon the political position of those sitting in judgment.
- In war the end justifies almost any means.
- Judgment must be made in the context of the times in which the action occurred and not from any other chronological vantage point.
- Concern with ethics increases with the number of means available and vice versa.
- The less important the end to be desired, the more one can afford to engage in ethical evaluations of means.
- Generally, success or failure is a mighty determinant of ethics.
- The morality of means depends upon whether the means is being employed at a time of imminent defeat or imminent victory.
- Any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition to be unethical.
- You do what you can with what you have and clothe it in moral garments.
- Goals must be phrased in general terms like "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," "Of theCommon Welfare," "Pursuit of Happiness," or "Bread and Peace."
He also had a set of rules for what he called power tactics" or the means used to "take." He described it as "how the Have Nots can take power away from the Haves." Here are his rules of power tactics.
- Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have.
- Never go outside the experience of your people.
- Whenever possible, go outside of the experience of the enemy.
- Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules.
- Ridicule is man's most potent weapon.
- A good tactic is one that your people enjoy.
- A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag.
- Keep the pressure on with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.
- The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself.
- The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition.
- If you push a negative hard and deep enough, it will break through into its counterside.
- The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative.
- Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.
Even a cursory review of these rules for radicals reveals that a union activist schooled in them will have no compunction about using almost any tactic in a conflict with a public agency. In fact, radicals must often create issues to Stir up problems in order to radicalize their potential followers.
With careful forethought any of these tactics can be defeated but in order to do so one must sometimes play be the same rules as the radicals.
For example, the tactic that seems to shock public officials most is the personalization of the attack. For the radical, it is not sufficient to attack the "administration" or the "board" they must attack a particular administrator or a member or members of the board. This is "outside their experience." They are simply not accustomed to having questions raised about their personal charachter because of differences of opinion on policy questions.
Public officials may seem trapped by this tactic because personally attacking an individual is "against their rule." If they react by attacking the "union," the organizer can then turn this around by telling his follwers, or potential follwers, that they have been attacked or insulted by the individual. Using the "pick it, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it" tactic, the reaction must be against a particular union activist, no matter how distasteful this might be.
Alinsky says that, even if the decision is 48% to 52% one, once it is made the opposition becomes "100 percent devil." He refers to any effort to be objective or fair about your opponent as "political idicoy."
Even if public officials are not willing to respond in kind to this sort of tactic, a great deal can be accomplished before a conflict by warning audiences what will happen. For example, if at the outset of a union campaign public official were to warn the employees of the agency that the union was going to attempt to make it seem that they were incompetent, immoral and corrupt, when it happened they might be able to ward off the worst effects of such attacks by reminding the employees that they had predicted them.
It is particularly important that appointed officials get this warning across to the elected officials who appoint them and that the elected officials then inform other opinion leaders in the community.
Any effort to go beyond public sector unionism may elicit the type of tactics described above. If you anticipate such problems, you may wish to make copies of these pages and provide them to local newspaper editors and civic leaders.
Note: There may be change in the wind. Recently, at a legislative hearing on a public sector collective bargaining bill representatives of both local and national unions testified. The local union officials were nowhere near as smooth as the pooh-bahs from Washington. After the hearing one of them was overheard in conversation with the representative of another national union as disdainfully saying, "They're still using Alinsky."