The Agenda

Reid Wilson on the Political Influence of Public Sector Unions

I’m primarily interested in the CBR question because I’m interested in improving the way the public sector works. Like governors Chris Christie and Brian Schweitzer, I think it’s certainly possible for a state government to negotiate effectively with public sector unions. If negotiations were more adversarial, if state governments were more oriented towards the long-term rather than short-term electoral imperatives, etc., we’d be much better off. I just think it’s unlikely that stars will be aligned just right, as they seem to have been for Gov. Schweitzer in Montana. And that’s partly because of the role that public sector unions play in electoral politics, as Reid Wilson explains in fascinating detail.

I actually think that Democrats are wrong to believe that the decline of public sector unions will weaken the left-of-center coalition in the U.S. It’s more likely that we’ll just see a shift in emphasis: rather than a zealous focus on increasing the size of the public workforce and its compensation levels, perhaps we’ll see more pressure to increase the total level of redistribution or the quality of public services. We now have a political force that has a strong incentive to conflate the fate of public workers with the fate of working and lower-middle-class households. But the interests at stake are not identical. 

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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