Until the late 1950’s and early 60’s, the deal for government employees was that they were paid less than similar private-sector workers but got excellent benefits, especially strong pensions and almost absolute job security. And although some government workers belonged to associations, they did not have collective-bargaining rights.
The deal was a fairly good one. Although government always tends toward bloat and inefficiency, in the former scenario taxpayers didn’t pay too much. But pay and benefits had to be good enough to attract decent people to patrol the streets, clean the roads, fix the sewers, and put out fires.
In those days organized collective bargaining was entirely done by private unions, such as the AFL-CIO, the UAW, and the Teamsters. The natural tendency of unions to demand too much in labor negotiations was tempered by the risk of bankrupting the companies for which their members worked.
In the late 50’s, relations between union bosses and company management, although sometimes tense, were well established under the Wagner Act (1935), which was pro-union, as well as the Taft-Hartley Act (1947), which permitted states to enact right-to-work measures and limited excessive labor power, while guaranteeing worker rights. In the mid-50’s, union membership had reached a peak of 35 percent of the U.S. labor force, rising above 50 percent in...