Watch Live: The Washington Ideas Forum 2014

Whither the Public Union?

In our "Question of the Day" feature for this year's Ideas Special Report, our readers tackle some of the emerging issues that are defining our time.


The Ideas Report 
The first half of 2011 has not been a good one for public unions. With membership already on the decline for several years, public workers have lately become the target of state governors suffering form budget shortfalls and a poor economic outlook.

In the July/August issue of The AtlanticJonathan Chait of The New Republic observes that in the past year, "public-employee unions emerged from a sleepy little corner in the demonology of American conservative thought to briefly occupy the role of villainus maximus in an ideology-laden fight over the soul of the American workforce." Here's how he summarizes the argument against them:
 
Perhaps unions have some role in the private realm, giving workers more leverage against employers seeking relentlessly to maximize their share of the firm's proceeds, but the logic does not apply to government. Indeed, since the opposite side of the public bargaining table is occupied by disinterested public servants rather than capitalists, and since public unions can influence the outcome of the elections, the public unions are bargaining with ... themselves.

Diagnosis: public employees are fat cats with absurd compensation packages. Prescription: deunionization.

Question of the Day: Are public unions on the decline? Or will they make a comeback as the economy improves and political pressure is focused elsewhere?

Post your answer in the comments, tweet us your response with the hashtag #AtlanticQotD, reply on Facebook, or submit your thoughts through our Tumblr. We'll be aggregating and curating your responses using Storify.

Presented by

Jared Keller is a former associate editor for The Atlantic and The Atlantic Wire and has also written for Lapham's Quarterly's Deja Vu blog, National Journal's The Hotline, Boston's Weekly Dig, and Preservation magazine. 

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Things Not to Say to a Pregnant Woman

You don't have to tell her how big she is. You don't need to touch her belly.

Video

Maine's Underground Street Art

"Graffiti is the farthest thing from anarchy."

Video

The Joy of Running in a Beautiful Place

A love letter to California's Marin Headlands

Video

'I Didn't Even Know What I Was Going Through'

A 17-year-old describes his struggles with depression.

Video

Google Street View, Transformed Into a Tiny Planet

A 360-degree tour of our world, made entirely from Google's panoramas

Video

The Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

More in Politics

Just In