Unionism Comes to the Public Sector

Richard B. Freeman

NBER Working Paper No. 1452 (Also Reprint No. r0717)
Issued in September 1984
NBER Program(s):   LS

This paper argues that public sector labor relations is best understood in a framework that focuses on unions' ability to shift demand curves rather than to raise wages, as is the case in the private sector. It reviews the public sector labor relations literature and finds that: (i) public sector unionism has flourished as a result of changes in laws; (2) the effects of public sector unions on wages are likely to have been underestimated; (3) public sector unions have a somewhat different effect on wage structures than do private sector unions; (4) compulsory arbitration reduces strikes with no clearcut impact on the level of wage settlements; (5) public sector unions have diverse effects on non-wage outcomes as do private sector unions. In terms of evaluating public sector unionism, the paper argues that by raising both the cost of public services (taxes) and the amount of services public sector unionism involves a different welfare calculus than private sector unionism.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w1452

Published: Freeman, Richard B. "Unionism Comes to the Public Sector." Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 24, (March 1986), pp. 41-86. citation courtesy of

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