Even in states where public unions wield much power, liberal political leaders are demanding concessions -- wage freezes, benefit cuts and tougher work rules, The New York Times reported.
"Public unions have no natural adversary, they give politicians political support and get good contracts back," said Fred Siegel, a historian at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute. "It's uniquely dysfunctional."
With the economy still struggling and unemployment near 10 percent, it is easy to blame unions for problems, some say.
"The mantra is that the problem is the unions, the unions, the unions," said Marie Corfield, a New Jersey art teacher.
Corfield said she has received a stream of angry and hateful e-mails since her confrontation with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over the state's education cuts became a YouTube classic.
"People I don't even know are calling me horrible names," Corfield said of the e-mails.
While some blame the country's economic problems on unions, others cite taxes as the primary issue.
"I'm up to here with taxes, I can't breathe, O.K.?" said Bill Rahal, a New Jersey retiree. "I don't know about asking anyone to give up a pension. Just don't ask for no more."