Skip to main content

Article Summary

Chandler, Timothy, and Peter Feuille. 1991. "Municipal Unions and Privatization." Public Administration Review 51 (1): 15-22.

This article examines the effect of municipal unions on cities decision to privatize a particular service. The authors surveyed public works directors around the country to understand city decisions to privatize sanitation collection. Sanitation services typify government services most often privatized: they are prosaic, not uniquely public, delivered through low-skilled jobs and have easily monitored outputs.

The primary rationale for privatization appears to be cost savings (average 29-37% savings for sanitation collection.) Unionization has traditionally has led to increased labor costs.

Privatization displaces these employees, which has been a major rallying point for union opposition, especially among women and minorities who benefit significantly from public sector employment. Unions possess an organizational advantage in opposing privatization, since they may be able to overcome individual interests in tax savings.

Authors surveyed 1,256 cities for the union status of their sanitation employees. They found that cities which had seriously considered contracting out services were more likely to have adversarial relations with the sanitation union or had experienced a strike. Employee opposition to contracting was significantly higher in unionized cities than non-unionized. The presence of a sanitation union significantly reduced the likelihood of a final decision to contract out, even when no language in the union contract forbid doing so. Most cities that privatized contracted out the entire service (as opposed to just portions of it). Almost one-third of the private sanitation employees were reported to be unionized (as opposed to an average of 40% for municipal sanitation workers). A significant number of these cities also experienced strikes by the private union, and a small percentage of these actually reverted to public service provision.