Christopher Prandoni

Unions have come to subsist on taxpayers. Last week, the Labor Department published 2012 data showing that the unionization rate in America continues to decline in both the private and government sectors. The 2012 numbers affirmed longstanding trends: that future union membership, growth, and dues will come from government workers.

For the fourth year in a row, there are more government union members than private sector union members. With a membership rate 5 times as high as the private sector, 35.9 percent of all government workers are unionized compared to 6.6 percent of private sector workers.

And this trend is unlikely to change. Private sector unions continue to price themselves out of work and their bureaucratic structure – which doesn’t allow for individual raises and compensation – only looks stranger every year. Inhibitory rules mean that the union policies disqualified their members from the ongoing manufacturing recovery.

As Heritage’s James Sherk notes, “Over one-eighth of manufacturing jobs disappeared between 2007 and 2010. Since then, however, employers have added approximately a half million new manufacturing jobs.

On net, however, all of that hiring took place in non-union firms. Between 2010 and 2012, non-union manufacturing employment expanded by 6.5 percent. At the same time, unionized manufacturing employment continued to fall, dropping another 4.7 percent.”

Manufacturing unions’ self-imposed decline is indicative of the plight of private sector unions – companies don’t want to hire unions and workers don’t want to join them.

Unfortunately for taxpayers, many of the market forces that keep unions in check in the private sector are not present in government. If a company is inefficient and makes poor investments, it goes out of business. If a locality or state makes equally disastrous personal decisions, its citizens foot the bill – there are few built in mechanisms to control government spending.

With private sector union membership falling from 24 percent in 1973 to 6.6 percent today, unions can read the writing on the wall – their future is predicated on their ability to unionize government workers. This business model is a bit ironic since 1955 A.F.L.-C.I.O. President George Meany – one of the fathers of the labor movement –rejected the very idea of government sector unions saying, “It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” President Franklin Roosevelt, who signed and advocated for the seminal National labor Relations Act, thought that government unions would be “unthinkable and intolerable.”


Christopher Prandoni

Christopher Prandoni serves as a Federal Affairs Manager of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR).