Anyone watching the changing landscape for labor unions in this country has seen a decades-long slide in membership. Another recent change that shouldn’t go unnoticed is that union membership is a designation more often associated with government.
Education researcher Mike Antonucci made that observation in a recent blog post.
The public-sector workforce is only about one-sixth the size of its private sector counterpart, but public sector workers are much more likely to be unionized: Public and private unions have about the same number of members. With private sector unions, only about half the size they were in 1979, the strength of labor has become dependent on the size of governments.
How dependent are unions on government? To assess that, Antonucci creates a state ranking of union strength and size of government. According to Antonucci, the indicator “gives us a sense of which states have unions that are more dependent on the private economy for their strength and which are more dependent on government policies.”
Where does North Carolina stand? North Carolina received a Public-Sector Union Strength Score of 98.9%
The percentage of public sector workers as a percentage of all workers in North Carolina is 13.9 percent, a relatively low number. However, the percentage of public sector union members as a percentage of all union members is 52.0%, above the national average of 50 percent. Public Sector union strength in North Carolina receives a score 98.9%, slightly below the national average.
Nationally, teacher’s unions make up about half of the membership of all public-sector unions. These realities certainly have an impact on how government deals with labor issues and in North Carolina. Antonucci writes:
All unions profess to stand in solidarity with each other, but public and private sector unions have some signal differences. Private sector unions have to consider the financial health of the companies their members work for in a way that public-sector unions do not. Governments don’t go out of business, or move to another state, or move overseas. And private sector unions don’t select their members’ employers. Through political support and campaign contributions, public sector unions can choose the people who decide how many government employees will be hired.
Unions have a every right to represent workers. However, we ought to be cautious when we see a growing linkage between union strength and the size of government. More often than not, it’s a sign that change is needed.