Public Employee Militancy

September 19, 1975

Report Outline
Labor Unrest Across the Nation
Growth of Public Employee Unionism
Future of Public Sector Bargaining

Labor Unrest Across the Nation

Strikes Against State and Local Governments

At city halls and statehouses across America the picket line has become the visible symbol of a major and growing concern of government. Labor turmoil in 1975 centers not in private industry but in government itself, especially at the local and state levels where public officials face shrinking or depleted treasuries on the one hand and are confronted with rising employee militancy on the other. The nation's economic ills can be held at least partly responsible for both sides of the problem. Recession and inflation have taken their toll of public revenues and the public employee's paycheck. Almost inevitably these days, higher pay for public employees means higher taxes will follow, and all signs indicate that taxpayer resistance—and resentment—is mounting. The mayor, the governor or the school board member tends to feel trapped between the opposing sets of demands.

Not only in New York City, with its highly publicized financial and labor problems, but in cities as far removed and different from one another as Birmingham, Cleveland, Cambridge, Mass., and Skokie, Ill., city workers walked off their jobs during the past summer when their union contracts expired. Policemen struck in Albuquerque and San Francisco. And in Pennsylvania, 50,000 state employees went on a three-day strike that constituted the biggest walkout of state or local workers in U.S. history. With the end of summer came teacher strikes in New York City, Chicago, Detroit and a dozen or more smaller cities. In Berkeley, Calif., teachers joined the city's fire fighters in a walkout. By early September, as many as two million school children were affected by teacher strikes.

Although the economy has served as a catalyst for much of the recent unrest among public employees, a rising militancy among them has been noted for the past decade. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 382 strikes by government employees in 1974, in contrast to 42 in 1965. Moreover, public employees are more numerous than ever before. For the past 15 years, one in every three jobs created in the United States has been in the public sector, bringing the current total of government employees—federal, state and local—to more than 14 million. They account for 16.1 per cent of total employment in the nation, in contrast to 12.3 per cent in 1960.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Public Employees
Apr. 08, 2011  Public-Employee Unions
Sep. 19, 1975  Public Employee Militancy
Oct. 25, 1967  Organization of Public Employees
Jul. 10, 1957  Unionization of Public Employees
May 18, 1955  Government Jobs
Nov. 01, 1952  Good Men for Government
Oct. 12, 1951  Government Employment
Jan. 19, 1942  Pay of Public Employees
Jun. 26, 1939  Extension of the Merit System
Jan. 20, 1932  Compensation of Public Employees
Government Labor-Management Relations
State, Local, and Intergovernmental Relations
Unions and Labor-Management Relations