Labor's Enduring Divide: The Distinct Path of Public Sector Unions in the United States

TitleLabor's Enduring Divide: The Distinct Path of Public Sector Unions in the United States
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsWalker, Alexis N.
JournalStudies in American Political Development
Volume28
Issue2
Pagination175 - 200
Date Published2014///
Keywordscollective bargaining, labor law, labor movement, public sector unions, Wagner Act
Abstract

Why did public sector unionization rise so dramatically and then plateau at the same time as private sector unionization underwent a precipitous decline? The exclusion of public sector employees from the centerpiece of private sector labor law—the 1935 Wagner Act—divided U.S. labor law and relegated public sector demand-making to the states. Consequently, public sector employees' collective bargaining rights were slow to develop and remain geographically concentrated, unequal and vulnerable. Further, divided labor law put the two movements out of alignment; private sector union density peaked nearly a decade before the first major statutes granting public sector collective bargaining rights passed. As a result of this incongruent timing and sequencing, the United States has never had a strong union movement comprised of both sectors at the height of their membership and influence.