Last updated on: 3/6/2024 | Author:

Should Public Sector Employees Have the Right to Unionize?

The National Labor Relations Act, signed in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, gave many private sector employees the right to form labor unions and engage in collective bargaining. Since the act excluded public sector (government) employees, about 21 million government employees currently have no federal right to unionize. FDR allegedly believed that private sector employees were more in need of union protection because they were more likely to be exploited by for-profit companies. Currently, the ability of public sector workers to unionize is governed by the states. which means some government employees have the right to unionize while others do not.

Source: Alexia Fernández Campbell, “Government Workers Don’t Have a Federal Right to Unionize. Democrats Want to Change That.,” June 25, 2019

PRO (yes)


Joe Biden:

“In my White House, you’ll always be welcome. You’ll always be welcome. Labor will always be welcome. You know, you’ve heard me say many times: I intend to be the most pro-union President leading the most pro-union administration in American history….

And I believe every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice. That belongs to workers, not to their employers or to special interests….

Government should never be a barrier to workers organizing. It’s government’s job to remove those barriers. But it’s up to workers to make the choice whether to organize or not, whether to form a union or not. And we need to help them understand why that can be the right choice for them.

We know the economic reasons: Union members get higher wages, better benefits, like health insurance and paid leave, protections against discrimination and harassment, and a safer and healthier workplace.

But there’s another reason — a basic American reason. Workers who join unions gain power — power over the decisions and the decision-makers that affect their lives. Workers’ voices are heard and heeded. In a simple word, a union means there is democracy. Democracy. Organizing, joining a union — that’s democracy in action.”

Editors’ Note: Biden more explicitly supported the right of public sector employess to unionize durng his 2020 presidential campaign: “States have decimated the rights of public sector workers who, unlike private sector workers, do not have federal protections ensuring their freedom to organize and collectively bargain… Provide a federal guarantee for public sector employees to bargain for better pay and benefits and the working conditions they deserve. Public sector unions provide the voice that workers – including educators, social workers, firefighters, and police officers – need to ensure they can serve their communities. And, public sector unions have been and continue to be an essential pathway to the middle class for workers of color and women, who disproportionately work in the public sector… As president, Biden will establish a federal right to union organizing and collective bargaining for all public sector employees, and make it easier for those employees who serve our communities to both join a union and bargain.”


White House, “Remarks by President Biden in Honor of Labor Unions,”, Sep. 8, 2021
Source for Editors’ Note: Joe Biden, “The Biden Plan for Strengthening Worker Organizing, Collective Bargaining, and Unions,” (accessed Apr. 27, 2020)

CON (no)


Donald Trump:

“The national security interests of the United States require expedient and efficient decision making. When new missions emerge or existing ones evolve, the Department of Defense requires maximum flexibility to respond to threats to carry out its mission of protecting the American people. This flexibility requires that military and civilian leadership manage their organizations to cultivate a lethal, agile force adaptive to new technologies and posture changes. Where collective bargaining is incompatible with these organizations’ missions, the Department of Defense should not be forced to sacrifice its national security mission and, instead, seek relief through third parties and administrative fora.”


American Presidency Project, “Presidential Memorandum for the Secretary of Defense: Delegation of Certain Authority under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute,”, Jan. 29, 2020

Not Clear or Not Found

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr:

“As President, I will protect American labor AND American industry. One thing I will consider: tariffs on imports from countries that allow exploitation of workers. American industries should not be forced to offshore to low-wage areas as nations compete with each other to sacrifice wages and working conditions in a ‘race to the bottom.'”


Robert F. Kennedy,, May 20, 2023