The drama playing out in Wisconsin and public reaction illustrates why unions have America’s governors and legislatures hog tied and states teetering on insolvency.
Over the last half century two powerful trends have defined America’s labor movement. Competition and a changing workforce have marginalized private sector unions, while public sector unions have grown in clout.
Unions represent less than 7 percent of non-government workers, down from 32 percent in 1960, while public unions have increased strength to 36 percent of workers from less than 25 percent in 1960.
In the private sector, an increasingly well-educated and professional labor force finds unions irrelevant and won’t vote yes for unions in representation elections. For blue collar workers, global competition steals union leverage in many industries—if workers negotiate wages and benefits employers can’t pass on to consumers and businesses fail, union contracts become worthless.
In the public sector, unions have special appeal because their employers enjoy a monopoly and union workers don’t face much accountability. If service is lousy at the Motor Vehicle Bureau or teachers don’t teach—taxpayers can’t go down the street to another vendor to renew their driver’s licenses and most can’t afford private school tuition. Moreover, public unions use dues to ensure their bosses—governors and key legislators—support generous benefits package and turn a blind eye to abuses of tenure.