Collective Bargaining in State and Local Government

Collective Bargaining in State and Local Government

Collective Bargaining in State and Local Government

Collective Bargaining in State and Local Government


Almost half of government employees are represented by labor organizations, and public-sector unions act as a significant force in the operation of governmental units and exert substantial control over labor costs and procedures governing conduct in the workplace. The response by state and local officials has varied greatly, with collective bargaining frameworks existing as a patchwork of diverse "experiments"--from mandated collective bargaining to outright prohibition. The purpose of this study is to reexamine the dimensions of state and local public-sector labor policy. The questions central to this research are why and how to manage collective bargaining.


Unions in the United States are not dead. They may not be strong, or even particularly healthy. However, the sometimes-hoped-for and muchpredicted demise of the American labor movement has not yet come to pass.

Why the negative predictions? Maybe we misinterpret the statistics, or perhaps we allow fear and easy pessimism to cloud our view of the future. To the satisfaction of some and to the dismay of others, a common characterization is that labor is merely "a shell of its former self." To substantiate this claim, adherents to this view cite, among other things, more frequent concession bargaining and the steady decline in private sector union membership of recent decades. The latter trend undoubtedly receives the most attention, but it builds no more than a weak case for labor's impending demise because it neglects an important part of the tale.

Though labor may now claim only approximately seventeen percent of the private sector workforce, we seem to forget three things. First, the unionized segment was never more than thirty-five percent of the total at its peak. Second, the present figure remains a sizeable, if declining, proportion. Third, there is not a direct arithmetic correspondence between group size and social, economic, or political clout.

Most visible for its absence in the generalization is the public sector component of the labor movement. About half of those employed at all levels of government are represented by a labor organization, and more than a third are union members.

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