Labor Pains: Because Being in a Union can be Painful

Public sector unions bite the hand that feeds them

The growing debate over public sector unions is not going away anytime soon.

In this morning’s New York Daily News, Professor Michael Marlow of California Polytechnic State University explained how public sector unions (like toll collectors or government clerks) in particular impose massive costs on the electorate.

Marlow notes that although unionized employees now make up only seven percent of the private sector, the number hasincreased in the public sector, rising from 23 percent in 1973 to 37 percent in 2011. The reason for this?

The different directions of these trend lines have much to do with the nature of public sector employment. For instance, unlike the private sector, public sector wages that exceed an employee’s productivity don’t directly threaten employment — if you need proof of this point, head down to your local DMV office.

How much does it cost taxpayers to pay for costly unions?

My study tested this hypothesis, and over the period of 2003 to 2010 found that a 10% increase in public union membership expands government by as much as 4.25%.

As governments climb further into debt, public sector unions make things even worse for businesses (and in turn, for their private sector union brothers and sisters). Marlow found that the business climate in states with a higher union membership rate was rated much worse than those with the lowest rate of unionization.

So as public sector unions demand more and more from taxpayers, they are making the state’s economic system even worse. As Marlow puts it, they are “biting the hands that feed them.”

But the “labor movement” knows that public sector unions are the ones that must carry their mantle forward, if only because of their growing numbers compared to the private sector’s shrinking ranks. And although, as Marlow points out, such a model is not sustainable, unions continue to pour their resources in to supporting politicians who would continue these harmful policies, even if members don’t agree.

Categories: Center for Union FactsPolitical Money