Associations for public employees have started as early as the 19th century. Their activities were limited and did not have any formal bargaining. A major argument used by opponents of public sector unions is known as the sovereignty doctrine. This doctrine held that the people were sovereign. The people give their authority to elected officials who act on their behalf, but the people maintain ultimate control through the electoral process. Any further delegation from elected officials to third parties leads to violation of public sovereignty. C00ollective bargaining implies a sharing of authority between unions and elected officials since negotiations are bilateral. By the 1950s, many observers saw the weaknesses in the sovereignty argument. The concept of union contracts and collective bargaining became more accepted. Public sector employees pushed for bargaining rights. In 1959, the state of Wisconsin passed a bill authorizing collective bargaining between local governments and their employees.
Progress was made in 1962 when President Kennedy issued Executive Order 10988. It guaranteed federal workers the right to join unions and bargain collectively over specified and limited working conditions. Wages and benefits were not a part of negotiations and strikes were prohibited. The public sector labor movement had several causes: * The number of wages and salaries had fallen well below those of their private sector counterparts. * Public employees were unhappy with their exclusion from organizing and bargaining rights afforded private workers under the NLRA. * A new postdepression generation of younger and more militant public employees was not content to accept job security in exchange for second-class pay and benefits. * Private sector union organization were experiencing stagnant or even declining memberships, and they targeted the public sector as an untapped source of new members and revenues. * State and local government workers saw President John F. Kennedy’s 1962 executive order granting federal employees very limited bargaining rights as a signal to start political and judicial challenges to long-standing blanket prohibitions on these levels of government. * The civil rights movement, anti-Vietnam war protests and other forms of civil disobedience “convinced militant public employees that protest against ‘the establishment’ and its laws was fruitful and could be a valued vehicle for bringing about desired