Public Sector Unions Under Siege

April 2018

Since the Great Recession of 2008, politicians in cash-strapped and debt-ridden states have increasingly promulgated the idea that public-sector unions are to blame for states’ budget woes. Traditionally, public-sector unions have been able to rely on Democrats to shield them from aggressive Republican efforts to limit or eliminate them. However, legislative and executive actions taken in recent years have shown that this traditional political paradigm may no longer hold true. Debt woes have made scapegoating and targeting public-sector unions a bipartisan affair. The mechanisms through which public-sector unions have become embattled institutions can be classified into four categories: managerial, political, legal, and fiscal. In many ways, each of the mechanisms acts not alone, but in concert with the others. This article maps out the major mechanisms used within each of the four categories and maps how these disparate mechanisms have come together to put public-sector unions in an insecure position among politicians and the public.