Big Unions Making Government Bigger

As this Heritage Foundation blog post notes, gone are the days when “union worker” conjured up images of Americans “working in a steel plant, or coal mine, or auto factory.” Because overly-generous salaries and benefits are easier to fetch from government than the private sector, unions are increasingly turning to public employees to boost membership:

Heritage scholar James Sherk has the numbers: The overall unionization rate between January and September 2009 stood at 12.4%, unchanged from last year. However, this difference masks a large difference between unions in the private and public sectors. Union membership has fallen to 7.3% of private sector workers – the lowest rate since Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act into law. But it is a completely different story in the public sector: 37.6% of government employees belong to unions, up almost a percentage point since last year. Those 7.9 million unionized government employees are 51% of all union members nationwide.

It’s even worse in Rhode Island. According to, 63.6 % of the 50,060 public employees in the state  are unionized. Union facts has a nifty graph on their site showing how union salaries have exceeded the rate of inflation. If it weren’t for union-inflated salaries, Ocean State residents could be paying 40.51 % less in state income taxes, according to the site. This is what Union Facts calls the “Government Employee Union Tax.”

The confluence of big unions and big government becomes a vicious cycle, in which government boosts union membership, salaries, and benefits, and, in turn, unions advocate for higher taxes and spending.

In Oregon, for example, unions are using their coffers to fund ballot initiatives that would establish higher personal income and corporate taxes. And why not? With all that extra money lying around, who in the Oregon state government will blush at dishing out higher salaries and bonuses to union workers?


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