Labor Unions and the Concept of Public Services

Prior to 1959, the idea of organized labor in the public service was barely conceivable. George Meany, late president of the AFL-CIO, had said: "It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government." The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor had not even bothered to record the negligible amount of work stoppages in the public sector separately. Not a single state had a law on the books concerning public sector collective bargaining or employee union representation until Wisconsin passed such a statute.

The article "Labor Unions and the Concept of Public Service" by Roscoe Pound, former Dean and Professor Emeritus at Harvard University Law School, reprinted in this issue in its entirety, was first published by the American Enterprise Association, which is now the American Enterprise Institute. Although Dean Pound mainly refers to organized labor within public utilities corporations (surely because unionism in governmental service was inconceivable then) his reasoning and philosophy apply even more strongly to labor unions as we have them today in the public service: teachers, police, fire fighters, transportation workers, sanitation workers, etc. Four legal principles should apply to labor unions in the public service, according to Pound. These are: (1) each side of the employer-employee relationship has a duty to assure the maintenance of the health, safety, comfort and convenience of the public by performing what is immediately required (i.e. no work stoppages) and also by allowing public service agencies to function effectively; (2) as long as these duties are carried out, both sides should continue to enjoy the advantages and privileges they have; (3) legislation needs to be adopted to enforce these first two points, to define and limit the monopolies and immunities enjoyed by both parties, particularly with respect to the relation of the parties to each other and the public; and (4) this particular body of labor law should be based on well-reasoned principles rather than consist of particular rules applying to rigidly defined facts. In sum, Pound states that labor unions have been given advantages and immunities without corresponding duties and responsibilities.