Category Archives: Public Sector

The New Crisis of Public Service Employment

Source: Gerald W. McEntee, Public Personnel Management, Winter 2006, Volume 35, no. 4

These are unprecedented times for public service workers and the unions that represent their interests. The largest of these unions is the 1.4 million member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO. In recent years, AFSCME has been thrust into the role of defending sweeping attacks on public employees and public budgets at every level of government.

Throughout its 70-year history, AFSCME has waged effective battles that have enabled public employees to join the ranks of the middle class—winning collective bargaining rights, facilitating the adoption of merit-based job performance systems, growing public employee pension plans, securing wage increases, and helping create a vibrant public sector that provides effective services to citizens and helps local economies realize their potential.
Today, much of the historic progress achieved by public workers is at risk. Ultimately, how successfully AFSCME and its fellow public unions meet five core challenges in the areas of privatization—fiscal limits, civil service reform and pension reform—will determine the future of America’s public sector.

The Psychological Contract and the Union Contract: A Paradigm Shift in Public Sector Employee Relations

Source: Thomas J. Calo, Public Personnel Management, Winter 2006, Volume 35, no. 4

This article examines the changing nature of employee and labor relations in the United States. A significant shift has occurred in the employee relations environment between the public and private sectors. As union representation in the private sector workforce has steeply declined, there had been a sharp and steady increase in third party representation in the public sector workforce. The reasons for these changes are explored.

The article goes beyond the issue of labor relations to the broader issue of positive employee relations in the workplace. Exploring employee relations from a behavioral science perspective, the article describes and discusses the psychological contract as an organizing framework for understanding and achieving positive employee relations in the workplace. The article also draws upon the author’s professional human resource experiences in the public and private sectors.

The Past as Prologue? A Brief History of the Labor Movement in the United States

Source: Joseph Adler, Public Personnel Management, Winter 2006, Volume 35, no. 4

Of the approximately 20 million public employees in the United States, more than eight million are either members of or represented by labor unions—a penetration rate of just over 40 percent. What is remarkable about this phenomenal growth is that most of the expansion of union activity in government has occurred within the last 40 years, and almost mirrors the decline of union strength in the private sector.

The rise and fall of labor in the private sector is a backdrop to the growth of public sector collective bargaining. Explanations for the dramatic increase in government union activity can be explored from a number of different perspectives. Current public policy efforts to reform civil service and allow managers greater flexibility are seen by some researchers as having the potential to impact the ability of public sector unions to represent their members effectively.

A Word (or Two) About Public Sector Collective Bargaining

Source: Joseph Adler, Public Personnel Management, Winter 2006, Volume 35, no. 4

Public Sector Collective Bargaining is a relatively recent phenomenon—its lifecycle can be traced to and indeed may be a lasting legacy of the “baby boomers” entering the public sector workforce in record numbers. Outside of a few traditionally union-friendly or politically progressive jurisdictions, union activity among government employees was virtually unknown and unheard of in the 1950s. During the next two-plus decades, however, union membership rates saw explosive growth so that by 1979 about 38 percent of public employees were either members of or represented by unions. Despite an occasional setback, public sector unions managed to stay close to this rate for the next 27 years. Ironically, the ascendancy of public sector unions almost mirrors the decline of private sector unions; at one time they represented more than one-third of America’s workers; today they represent less than nine percent.

At the initial stages of public sector union organizing there was a robust discussion among practitioners, researchers, and others concerning the changes unionization might cause to the body politic over resource allocation, the determination of public policy, the use of political pressure at the bargaining table and the role of the “public” in bargaining, plus the potential shift in power favoring unionized employees. Acceptance of collective bargaining in government has indeed resulted in changes both at the macro public policy/administration level, and the micro human resource administration level. It is hoped that this special issue rekindles the inquiry and debate both from an academic as well as a practitioner perspective.