A Labor Day with too few union members

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. labor union membership rate is rough half of what it was in 1983, when the government began keeping comparable data:

The union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions— was 10.7 percent in 2016, down 0.4 percentage point from 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.6 million in 2016, declined by 240,000 from 2015. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.

If we go back to the 1950s, we see that roughly one third of the American workforce was unionized.

During this stretch of time, giant wage and wealth gaps have opened up and the middle class has been giving way to economic extremes of the top 10-15 percent doing very well and so many others barely hanging on, if that. The accompanying dynamics include virulent, corporate-fueled on-the-floor and political opposition to organized labor. And let’s also acknowledge that too many unions don’t serve their members well and retain leaders who act like the worst CEOs.

The labor movement has been the most effective force in American history for raising wages and benefits to livable, sustainable levels and keeping them there. So long as the union membership rate continues its decline, I don’t have much hope for the fortunes of the average American worker. Hopefully people will wake up and realize that they’ve been sold a bad bill of goods over the past few decades and come to embrace what good unions do for our society.

3 responses

  1. David,

    Your comments on the losses incurred through the reduction in union membership is spot on. I believe American unions need to adapt to a new global reality and offer their members significant new services, rather than sticking to the old model. Attached is a one page vision piece that Tony Belak and I proposed to the University of Louisville. They have yet to respond to the piece.

    I hope all is well with you.

    J-R

    —
    John-Robert Curtin, Ph.D.
    Senior Fellow
    4Civility Institute
    609 Riverwood Place
    Louisville, KY 40207

    502-417-0521

    CEO Connected Learning Network

    From: Minding the Workplace
    Reply-To: Minding the Workplace
    Date: Monday, September 4, 2017 at 1:08 PM
    To: “jr@4civility.org”
    Subject: [New post] A Labor Day with too few union members
    Resent-From:

    David Yamada posted: ” According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. labor union membership rate is rough half of what it was in 1983, when the government began keeping comparable data: The union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who we”

  2. I am a member of American Federation of Teachers and generally, I support unions. However, I had to quit my post as Vice President and Chair of the Committee on Political Education (the local PAC) due to workplace bullying WITHIN the union. Within three months of beginning my term at AFT Local #6554, the union Secretary falsely accused me of mishandling PAC $. The bullying continued for a year until I left a position I loved and one in which I had great success (fund-raising, recruiting, establishing communications, etc.)

    American Federation of Teachers position regarding workplace bullying is robust and clear, with regard to bullying that takes place within the scope of one’s employment at a school district.
    ( https://www.aft.org/position/workplace-bullying ) HOWEVER, there is NO such protection from bullying if one is working FOR the UNION.

    Unless and until unions recognize bullying WITHIN their ranks, they will not realize their full potential to advance the causes of working people.

  3. The federal union is so expensive to join, no one joins anymore. It’s like $50 per pay period. It shouldn’t be more than $10. And yet, unions are desperately needed in agencies like the USDA Forest Service. There needs to be class action lawsuits against the Forest Service from 1) women, 2) people with disabilities, 3) people older than 40. The agency discriminates against these three groups, violates their own EEO rules, and generally protects incompetent managers. Very bad form.

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