Public Employee Unions Face Struggles

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WASHINGTON, Sept. 5 (UPI) — Public employees are struggling to preserve jobs, pay, benefits and collective bargaining as government employers face growing economic stress, experts say.

The Detroit News reports this Labor Day weekend public employers — school districts and state and local governments — are burdened with huge deficits accumulated when spending exceeded tax revenue needed to support it.

“This is a tough moment for public employees,” said Harley Shaiken, a labor studies professor at the University of California, Berkeley. “The public sector is under unprecedented financial stress.”

The U.S. Census reports state and local government eliminated more than 200,000 workers’ jobs last year, the largest annual reduction since 1981, and more than a half-million local government jobs have been cut in the past three years.

At the same time, the percentage of public employees in unions declined last year to 36.2 percent, or 7.6 million workers, from a 10-year high of 37.4 percent in 2009.

“Labor right now in many cases — especially the public sector — has had to make concessions because we have to live within our means,” U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said. “That’s just the way it is.”

Unions and governments and the school districts that employ them have battled in states, including Wisconsin, New Jersey and Ohio, over pay, benefits and collective bargaining, the News noted.

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