How Government Labor Unions Undermine Upward Mobility

Government labor unions create a privileged and protected class of workers and don’t do much to help the working class, finds a new report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The report, How Government Unions Undermine Upward Mobility And What Can Be Done about It by CEI Warren Brookes journalism fellow Carrie Sheffield, takes a closer look at government labor unions: who they benefit and hurt and how they diverge significantly from traditional, private-sector labor unions.

“Public sector unions may claim they stand up for the little guy, but in reality they aren’t representing blue collar workers against a better-educated, white-collar management,” Sheffield said. “Government unions represent skilled, white-collar workers who enjoy big benefits and job security, courtesy of the taxpayer.

“And, unfortunately for taxpayers, government unions donate huge amounts to elected officials who then vote on those expanding benefit packages – much to the detriment of cities like Detroit and Stockton, California and states like Illinois and New Jersey that are on the brink of fiscal insolvency,” Sheffield added.

Since 2009, unionized government employees (7.9 million) have outnumbered private sector union members (7.4 million). But do white collar government workers need labor union representation? Today’s public sector workers are generally materially better off and have higher levels of formal education than private sector union members of years past, the report documents.

  • Government sector employees have more years of education than private sector workers. 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.
  • Government sector employees are more likely to be employed in “management, professional, and related occupations.” In 2013, 56.2 percent of public sector workers and 37.8 percent of private sector workers were employed in these occupations.
  • There’s been an increase of government sector employees who are in the top third of the nation’s income distribution, as the percentage of government union members increased between 1971 and 2004. This indicates a widening wealth gap between government workers and the rest of America.

The report urges specific reforms, such as removing pensions, health care benefits, and raises from the negotiating table and indexing them to inflation, instead. Other reforms include increasing the retirement age for public sector benefits and restricting use of government-collected union dues for collective bargaining only, not politics.

View the report, How Government Unions Undermine Upward Mobility And What Can Be Done about It