the Wagner Act, enacted in 1935, extended gov-ernment support of unionism and collectivebargaining to private employers. And thencame war. During World War II and the KoreanWar, war labor boards imposed union relation-ships, including union shops, on many employ-ers in order to ensure continued productivity.The years following World War II were thegolden era of American organized labor. WithEurope and Japan devastated, American man-ufacturers faced little foreign competition.That enabled large industrial firms to providegenerous contracts to their unionized employ-ees while passing the costs of those contractson to consumers with little difficulty. Yet, likethe economic prostration of Europe and Japan, this would not last.The 1948 Taft-Hartley Act, passed in thewake of a public backlash against aggressiveunion strikes, repealed the Wagner Act’s“closed shop” provision. Taft-Hartley gavestates the option of enacting right-to-worklaws, which bar union membership frombeing a precondition for employment.
In the28 states that do not have right-to-work laws,unions may still require individual workersto pay “agency fees” allegedly to avoid “freeriders”—that is, to cover the costs of repre-sentation, which the unions argue benefitsboth union and nonunion workers at a givenworkplace.In the late 1950s, union membership as a percentage of the private-sector workforcebegan to decline; the shift from private- topublic-sector unionism had begun. In 1959,Wisconsin became the first state to enact com-pulsory public-sector bargaining legislation.Since then, the federal government and moststates have instituted compulsory public-sec-tor bargaining schemes. In 1958, when theBureau of Labor Statistics first began keepingtrack of public sector union membership as a distinct category, there were only 1,035,000government-employee union members, or 12percent of a workforce of about 8.5 million.
Between 1958 and 2008, public employmentgrew by almost 250 percent and government-employee union membership increased by more than 750 percent to 7.8 million. In 2008,36.8 percent of the government workforce was
Between 1958and 2008, publicemploymentgrew by almost250 percent andgovernment-employee unionmembershipincreased by more than750 percent, to7.8 million.
1983 1985 1987 1989 1991 1993 1995 1997 1999 2001 2003 2005 2007
Private sector unionized workersPublic sector unionized workers
Figure 1Changing Composition of U.S. Organized Labor, 1983–2008 (public, private, and total)
Source: Barry T. Hirsch and David A. Macpherson, “Union Membership and Earnings Data Book,” Bureau of NationalAffairs, chart prepared by the Public Service Research Foundation.
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