Storm Clouds Ahead: Why Conflict With Public Unions Will Continue

Conflict over government labor relations is far from over and is very likely to continue. The main reason that such confrontation will persist is the fundamental differences between unions in the public and private sectors. Private-sector unions have declined over the last 30 years; by 2009, public employees had become the majority of union members. Due to the different environments within which they operate, public- and private-sector unions sometimes have competing interests and work at cross-purposes. Public-sector unions are more fundamentally political organizations than their private-sector counterparts because the most relevant decisions to them are political decisions. Government as an employer also creates incentives for public employee unions to obscure their purposes by conflating their self-interest with the public interest. In times of fiscal pressures, these differences make it difficult for elected officials and government labor unions to resolve disputes.

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