Unions and Public Pension Benefits

Alicia H. MunnellJean-Pierre AubryJosh Hurwitz Laura Quinby

SLP#19

The brief’s key findings are:

  • Recent debates suggest that union power has led to higher public pension benefits.
  • Interestingly, union strength appears to have no impact on the level or growth of benefits.
    • Because pensions are legislated, not bargained, lobbying expertise may be more important than union size.
  • In contrast, union strength does seem to raise employees’ wages.
    • Because wages are determined through collective bargaining, union numbers appear to matter.
  • Finally, union strength appears to reduce the relative size of the public workforce.
    • Given the effect on wages, reductions in employment would not be unexpected.
  • These results should be viewed as only a first step in understanding the influence of public unions on employee compensation.