Friday, November 6, 2009

WPA, CCC and public sector unions

Yglesias stumbles onto an interesting intellectual exercise. Could we have a CCC or WPA in 21st Century America where nearly 37% of all public employees are union members and a much larger percentage of public employees are part of a collective bargaining unit?

My off the cuff answer is that certainly it could be done but it would be difficult. I know, very helpful - right?

I have no idea what the public sector union density rate was in 1933 when the CCC was founded. The legal right to join a private sector union was codified in 1935. Prior to the Wagner Act private sector union density was less than 7%. I think it would be fair to say that public sector union density was certainly no higher than that and likely much lower.

1 comment:

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

Your guess is probably correct. Public sector unionization is and has been for quite a few years, in a healthy growth phase. While worker protections for civil servants pre-date widespread private sector unionization, the notion that civil servants could be unionized in addition to having civil service protections is more recent.

This said, I don't think that unions would be a serious barrier to WPA/CCC style programs. We have one of them, the Census, every ten years, and to my knowledge temporary census workers are not unionized without objection from the union that represents most Commerce Department workers.

A WPA/CCC program also bears some similarity to the non-union National Guard when it is mobilized, although perhaps the military is different. Still, the civilian Peace Corps isn't a union shop either.

Union opposition would come to the creation of large, permanent public labor forces, something that WPA/CCC are not.