How Government Unions Undermine Upward Mobility

And What Can Be Done about It

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A common claim made by government employee unions and their supporters is that they stand up for the little guy. Cue Aaron Copeland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.” But the reality is more complex. 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 campaign donors. And elected officials who rely on unions to remain in office in exchange for expanding benefit packages that 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.

This paper examines how government employee unions divide American workers into two distinct classes: 1) those who earn a living in the private market and 2) those who work for the government and enjoy higher wages and benefits and ironclad job protections. This hurts both the direct victims of the public sector union inequality and taxpayers more broadly. Collective bargaining agreements also enable government unions to gain outsize pay and benefits, and hurt taxpayers, who end up paying more for public services. In the historical context of the 50-year War on Poverty, government unions have not been champions of the neediest in society.