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News from EPI A ruling against state and local government unions in Janus will have negative consequences for public services as well as workers

In a new issue brief, EPI Director of Policy Heidi Shierholz and Director of Labor Law and Policy Celine McNicholas outline the profound negative consequences that a ruling for the plaintiff in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 will have on public sector workers’ wages and job quality, as well as on the critical public services these workers provide.

Shierholz and McNicholas provide a breakdown of the state and local government workers whose wages and job quality are at stake. Workers in education make up more than half of all state and local government workers, with elementary and secondary school workers alone making up nearly 40 percent. In addition, millions of state and local workers work in justice, public order, and safety activities (primarily police officers and firefighters); hospitals; individuals and family services; public transportation, museums and similar institutions; libraries; home health care services; waste management services; and child day care services.

“These workers are the backbone of our communities. The critical public services they provide are put at risk as attacks on collective bargaining erode their compensation and job quality,” said Shierholz. “The stability and experience of state and local government workers—and the quality of services they provide—is one of the things that is at stake in the Supreme Court’s decision in Janus.”

The authors show that state and local government workers earn less than similar private-sector workers. Comparing the hourly wages of state and local government workers with those of private-sector workers after controlling for education, age, gender, race, ethnicity, and other factors known to affect pay, workers in state and local government make between 3.7 and 8.2 percent less on average than their private-sector counterparts.

However, state and local government workers who are represented by a union earn substantially more than similar workers who are not. A careful analysis of wage data shows that state and local government workers who are covered by a union contract earn between 10.7 and 13.6 percent more in hourly wages than their nonunion counterparts with the same level of education and experience.

“The recent teachers’ strikes in states such as West Virginia and Oklahoma provide examples of the effect of denying working people access to effective collective bargaining,” said McNicholas. “It is likely that other state and local government workers would be forced to resort to similar tactics following a Supreme Court decision in favor of the Janus plaintiffs. This means that more communities may face disruptions in everything from education to child and elder care services, public safety services, and municipal services.”