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Shift Away From Private Sector Unions to Public Sector Unions

(Second part of the series on the State of Labor Unions in America)

Few graphs can be more dramatic than the two showing membership trends of private and public sector unions. Look at what is happening.

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These graphs go back to the early 1980s. If you look further back you will see that private sector unions were at their peak in the 1950s. They then had about 35% market share. Public sector unionism at that time was minimal. The private sector had since 1935 been regulated by the National Labor Relations Act. There was little regulation (for or against) of public sector unions. This changed with JFK's executive order in the early 1960s (Executive Order 10988 signed by JFK on January 17, 1962). This opened the door for federal unions. There was lively debate back at that time over what many saw as a fundamental conflict between public sector bargaining and the role of government. To many, there was an inconsistency. It was troubling that unions would bargain with politicians who owed their jobs to big voting blocs like organized labor. As could be expected, public sector bargaining won out and the flood gates opened. Postal workers gained bargaining rights after a strike in 1970 and postal worker issues were force fed into the essentially private sector National Labor Relations Act. States took various routes. Some granted full bargaining rights to public sector unions, others granted limited rights and some made public sector bargaining illegal. But, the wave of public sector unions crashed down upon us and today it is about dead even with an approximately equal number of union members in the public sector as in the private sector. This would have been totally unthinkable back In the 1950s.

Questions? Contact Attorney Richard H. Wessels at (630) 377-1554 or by email at

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