Labor’s Tipping Point

By July 27, 2006Labor Unions

Al Gore loves to talk about “the tipping point” in his global warming campaign, a point of no return of sorts. Unfortunately for organized labor, they are facing a tipping point of their own.

In 1983, fewer than a third of union workers were government employees. Today, just under half are public sector employees, paid by your tax dollars. Overall, the number of union workers in government has increased from less than 6 million in 1983 to nearly 8 million, while the number of private sector union members has fallen from more than 12 million to just under 9 million in the same period. In other words, public employees are a growing numerator over a shrinking denominator.

What does this mean for labor? It means that they are fast approaching a point where the majority of all union members in this country are public sector employees. Their goals are to increase the size, scope and cost of government. This increasingly will put a greater tax burden on the (shrinking) half of the membership who works in the private sector. This graph shows it quite clearly. For labor, it portends intense internal battles ahead as they try to set priorities for diverse groups with very different objectives.

For those of you who are graph-averse, here’s a slightly less scholarly depiction of what lies ahead for labor.