Publication Date



[Excerpt] There is emerging consensus among public sector union leaders at the national level1 that the threats they face today are eerily similar to those ignored by private sector unions 20 years ago. Privatization, reinventing government, a changing public sector work force, anti-government forces on Capitol Hill and in statehouses, union myopia, and member apathy all are taken with the utmost seriousness. The situation calls for a sophisticated strategic response. Because they are operating from a position of relative strength, public sector unions must be at the forefront of any effort to re-establish union influence in our society. With this ultimate objective in mind, the following priorities have been embraced by most of the major public sector unions: expand political action, enhance organizing programs, fight privatization, mobilize members in support of the above, and develop a new generation of leaders.

If public sector unions are successful in achieving these priorities, the entire labor movement will benefit. In the next section we present an optimistic scenario that outlines what we see as key ingredients if public sector unions are to prevail. Unfortunately, we are not fully convinced that this formula will be pursued with sufficient vigor to meet the political and economic challenges that threaten unions. Later in the paper we will describe a more pessimistic course of events that could result in gradual contraction of density and influence. Although we concur on the factors that could lead alternatively to success or failure, we differ on the weights we assign to the two scenarios. Co-author Pinnock believes that the evidence supports a positive prognostication, while co-author Hurd is less sanguine and leans towards the forecast of adversity (apropos his training as an economist). We are in agreement, however, on the essential elements of a revitalized labor movement and will conclude the paper with a synopsis of our prescription for productive transformation.


Suggested Citation
Hurd, R. W. & Pinnock, S. (2004). Public sector unions: Will they thrive or struggle to survive? [Electronic version]. Retrieved [insert date], from Cornell University, ILR School site:

Required Publisher’s Statement
© Springer Verlag. Final version published as: Hurd, R. W. & Pinnock, S. (2004). Public sector unions: Will they thrive or struggle to survive? Journal of Labor Research, 25(2), 211-221. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Included in

Unions Commons