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But polls of union members show that not all support the political agenda of the union leadership, and sometimes a majority oppose it.

Because of the overwhelmingly liberal slant of union activities, Republican governors and legislators are seeking to end the automatic deduction of union dues in several states.

Unions say the legislators are politically motivated and are more interested in curbing a major source of funding for their Democratic opponents than in improving state finances.

Taxpayers in control

But because average taxpayers who pay for the union activities do not have the same kinds of powerful and well-financed groups defending their interests, analysts say, unions have had a disproportionate influence over decisions by state and local governments.

Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute said taxpayers need to be put back in control of the government, and that means curbing the power of public employee unions.

The unions have come to dominate the public work force — representing nearly 40 percent of all state and local workers — because of hardball political tactics and the monopoly powers they gained from legislatures in the past, he said.

Before the 1960s, unions represented less than 15 percent of the public work force, and courts generally ruled that public workers should not have collective-bargaining privileges like those of private workers.

In the 1960s and 1970s, states and cities enacted laws to enable unions to flourish in government. Some states and cities, New York for example, even required collective-bargaining and compulsory union dues.

By the time the budget battles started in earnest last year, 26 states had laws allowing all of their workers to bargain collectively, and another 12 allowed some of their workers to do so. The remaining 12 states — mostly in the South — did not permit collective bargaining, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The road ahead

How much Republicans are able to roll back those laws remains to be seen.

Even as the public-sector unions grew in strength in recent decades, private-sector unions dramatically declined from more than 40 percent of the work force in the 1950s to less than 10 percent today.

Unions have all but lost control over private-sector wage and benefit levels because many of the private industries that were unionized in the past either went bankrupt or located factories overseas, where they found cheaper, nonunion labor, analysts say.

That option is not available for state and local governments. A few local governments, such as Vallejos, Calif., have been able to annul burdensome union contracts by using the Chapter 9 bankruptcy code.

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