The Assault on Public Sector Collective Bargaining: Real Harms and Imaginary Benefits

Source: Joseph E. Slater, American Constitution Society, Issue Brief, June 2011

Perhaps the most striking political development in 2011 is the widespread and aggressive assault on public sector collective bargaining rights. While the most highly publicized and most significant changes have taken place in Wisconsin and Ohio, moves are afoot in a number of states. These changes represent the most radical revisions to labor law in the U.S. in decades, and they have set off a political firestorm.

This brief will argue that these attacks are deeply misguided. They serve no purpose beyond a partisan attempt to weaken a key supporter of the Democratic party and they do not address budget deficits. Instead, they take away a core right that has been recognized in the vast majority of the United States for up to half a century, a right that is considered fundamental in much of the industrialized world, a right that helps individual teachers, firefighters, police officers, and other public employees in their day-to-day lives at the workplace, a right that helps sustain a vital middle class, and a right that helps ensure talented and skilled people will find public service an attractive career option.

This Issue Brief will provide background on the development and functioning of public sector labor laws in the U.S., discuss the current political debates over such laws (including debates over whether public sector workers are “overpaid”), explain some of the most prominent recent legislation in this area (including, but not limited to, laws in Ohio and Wisconsin), and critique the proposed changes.

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