Implicit Public Values and the Creation of Publicly Valuable Outcomes: The Importance of Work and the Contested Role of Labor Unions

Published date01 July 2014
Date01 July 2014
AuthorJohn W. Budd
John W. Budd is professor of work
and organizations in the Carlson School
of Management at the University of
Minnesota, where he holds the Industrial
Relations Land Grant Chair and is director
of the Center for Human Resources
and Labor Studies. His books include
Employment with a Human Face:
Balancing Eff‌i ciency, Equity, and
Voice (Cornell University Press, 2004),
Invisible Hands, Invisible Objectives:
Bringing Workplace Law and Public
Policy into Focus (with Stephen Befort;
Stanford University Press, 2009), and The
Thought of Work (ILR Press, 2011).
506 Public Administration Review • July | August 2014
Public Administration Review,
Vol. 74, Iss. 4, pp. 506–516. © 2014 by
The American Society for Public Administration.
DOI: 10.1111/puar.12134.
John W. Budd
University of Minnesota
e deep importance of work for families and communi-
ties means that discussions of public values and debates
over public policies to create publicly valuable outcomes
must not overlook work, the workplace, and the employ-
ment relationship.  is article considers the range of
public values on work and the options for creating work-
related publicly valuable outcomes. Labor unions feature
prominently in the analyses because they are the most vis-
ible nonmarket institution for creating publicly valuable
outcomes relating to work. Ultimately, however, there is
no consensus on the desired public values about work or
the best ways of fulf‌i lling them. Rather, these are deeply
contested issues rooted in contrasting frames of reference
on work and the employment relationship, which makes
the realization of publicly valuable outcomes challenging.
Public values are the values of a society that pro-
vide “normative consensus about (a) the rights,
benef‌i ts, and prerogatives
to which citizens should (and
should not) be entitled; (b) the
obligations of citizens to society,
the state, and one another; and
(c) the principles on which
governments and policies
should be based” (Bozeman
2007, 13).  e complexity of
modern societies means that a modern society’s public
values are broad ranging. Public values necessarily
intersect with the full range of societal issues; this
article focuses on issues related to work. Moreover,
the creation of publicly valuable outcomes consistent
with a society’s public values can involve a diverse set
of actors and institutions. In the domain of work, the
creation of publicly valuable outcomes is shaped by
economic markets, government policies, private and
public sector organizations, diverse worker advocacy
and community groups, protest movements, and
others. Part of this article highlights the role of labor
unions because of their central role in trying to create
publicly valuable outcomes in the work domain and
because debates over labor unions reveal contrasting
perspectives on the nature of public values as well as
contested views on how best to realize these values
within the workplace and beyond. By deepening our
understanding of these traditional roles, we can better
understand the needed roles of new institutions as
unions are increasingly limited in their abilities to cre-
ate publicly valuable work-related outcomes because
of their long-standing decline in the private sector
and more recent attacks on public sector unions in
Wisconsin and elsewhere.
It is common to see work primarily as an economic
activity that generates commodities, services, and
income. From such a perspective, work is largely
a private activity that occurs between consenting
economic actors in a distinct sphere of life, and the
favored work-related public values are those that
ref‌l ect economic individualism. But this is an exces-
sively narrow view of work (Boyte and Kari 1996;
Budd 2011). Work can be a
source of personal fulf‌i llment
and psychological well-being
that provides more than extrin-
sic monetary rewards. Work is a
way to intimately care for others
and to serve others through vol-
unteering, civic service, military
service, and other means. On
an even deeper level, work can be a source of identity
by helping individuals understand who they are and
where they stand in the social structure. Work is also
a source of freedom from the dictates of the natural
world—a way to express creativity and build culture.
Work “builds and sustains our basic public goods and
resources,” and thus it is an essential element of citi-
zenship (Boyte and Kari 1996, 16). And many believe
that work is not simply a commodity traded in the
marketplace but is something done by human beings
who therefore merit a set of workplace standards con-
sistent with human dignity (Budd 2004; Gross 2010;
Kaufman 2005).
Work is therefore a fully human activity—it is “how
we earn a living, build a material world, develop (or
Implicit Public Values and the Creation of Publicly Valuable
Outcomes:  e Importance of Work and the Contested Role
of Labor Unions
Work can be a source of
personal fulf‌i llment and
psychological well-being that
provides more than extrinsic
monetary rewards.

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