U.S. Public Sector Labor Relations: A Historical Perspective

Source: Amanda Cuba, HR News, Vol. 75 no. 4, April 2009
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As recently as 50 years ago, labor relations in the U.S. public sector were extremely disorganized, said Walter Pellegrini, who is on the board of the National Public Employer Labor Relations Association, which has more than 2,900 members and provides networking opportunities for HR professionals. A public sector management advocate for 30 years, Pellegrini said that a mere half century ago, “any labor relations that went on was by forward-thinking employers. In the public sector any recognition and formal dealing with unions was
done predominantly by Democratic politicians as another source of bloc votes.”

Unions were rare but not unheard of in the public sector until a few decades earlier. While the National Education Association was established in 1857 and the Fraternal Order of Police started in 1915, former NPELRA general counsel James Baird said the early days of government employee organizing were a rough time for employees everywhere. Most workers had few real options for seeking better benefits, pay increases and many of the other amenities they desired.

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