Labor

The Rise of Public-Sector Unions

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Writing in today's Wall Street Journal, Hillsdale College history professor Paul Moreno traces the rise of public-sector unions in America in the second half of the twentieth century. As he explains, "before the 1950s, government-employee unions were almost inconceivable." Indeed, even prominent liberal leaders like Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt spoke out strongly against the idea. So what changed? Here's Moreno:

Postwar prosperity and the great increase of public employment revived the public union idea. By 1970, nearly 20% of American workers worked for the government. (In 1900: 4%.) The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees led the effort to persuade a state to allow public-employee unionization, and Afscme prevailed in Wisconsin in 1958. New York City and other cities also permitted their workers to unionize.

President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order 60 years ago that broke the dam. The order did not permit federal employees to bargain over wages (these are still set by Congress), or to force workers to join a union or to strike (no state or city allowed that), but Kennedy's directive did lead to unionization of the federal workforce. And it gave great impetus to more liberal state and local laws. Government-union membership rose tenfold in the 1960s.

Read the whole thing here.