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Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal, Vol. 19, No. 2, 2015


Federal sector unionism is a paradox. Despite the outlawry of union-security provisions and strikes, sharp limits on the scope of collective bargaining (outside the U.S. Postal Service and airport air traffic controllers), and the absence of card-check certification, federal employees join unions and pay dues. The union membership rate is lower than in state and local governments but considerably higher than in the private sector. Somewhat fewer employee pay dues than are covered by collective agreements but the free-riding effect is smaller than one would expect. The federal sector suggests a model of relatively low-stakes unionism and collective bargaining that perhaps should be considered as an alternative by labor organizations and policymakers. The federal-sector mode may, however, require certain features that are not readily replicable in the private sector: the absence of a right to strike in favor of some measure of interest arbitration as a deadlock-breaking device, an absence of employer opposition, and statutory employment protections.

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unions, union dues, collective bargaining, civil service, free rider effect, scope of bargaining