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The Role Of Public Sector Unions In The U.S.

In the post-WWII period, 40 percent of Americans were private sector union members. That number is now below 7 percent.

The reasons behind this drastic decline are hotly disputed. Union supporters say greedy corporations, helped by politicians, have worked systematically to bust the movement. Detractors say leadership corruption, improved labor laws and global competition served to make unions less relevant over time.  

By 2013 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported only 11 percent of all U.S. workers belonged to labor unions. The reason that number isn’t much lower is due to public sector unions, like in the postal service or fire department. In the period from 1983 to 2013, public union membership actually grew as private membership declined.  

This episode of Speakers Forum presents a debate focused precisely on the role public sector unions play in the overall health or weakness of the labor movement.

Taking opposing sides are City College of New York  assistant professor of political science Daniel DiSalvo, author of “Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences,” and UW political science professor Michael McCann. With the aid of KUOW’s Ross Reynolds as moderator, and questions from the audience at Town Hall, DiSalvo and McCann defend their research at length with helpful insights and conclusions.

Town Hall Seattle and Elliott Bay Book Company presented this event on Jan. 13 as part of the Civics series. Sponsors include Boeing, The RealNetworks Foundation and the True Brown Foundation.

Thanks to Jennie Cecil Moore for this recording.

Year started with KUOW: 2006