Publication Date

Summer 2003


[Excerpt] Public sector unions have displayed healthy durability for the past twenty years, apparently immune to the economic and political forces that have buffeted the broader labor movement. While unions in the private economy have lost power and seen density decline by more than half, unions of government workers have retained influence and market share. Early in the twenty first century there are signs that this era of relative comfort may be coming to an end.

In the 1980s private sector unions were sent reeling by the combined forces of globalization, deregulation and increased management hostility. Today their public sector associates face the parallel threats of massive budget deficits, privatization and the expanded power of the Republican right. When unions addressed their conundrum in the private economy two decades ago, inertia and strategic rigidity forestalled an effective response (Hurd 1998). Today public sector unions are determined to avoid similar mistakes and intend to confront systematically the challenges that they face.


Suggested Citation
Hurd, R. W. (2003). In defense of public service: Union strategy in transition. [Electronic version]. Retrieved [insert date] from Cornell University, ILR school site:

Required Publisher Statement
Reprinted with permission of Wiley-Blackwell. Final version published as Hurd, R. W. (2003). In defense of public service: Union strategy in transition. Working USA, 7(1), 6-25.