[Marxism] Union membership at 97 year low

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jan 24 08:07:15 MST 2013

NY Times January 23, 2013
Share of the Work Force in a Union Falls to a 97-Year Low, 11.3%

The long decline in the number of American workers belonging to labor 
unions accelerated sharply last year, according to data reported on 
Wednesday, sending the unionization rate to its lowest level in close to 
a century.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the total number of union members 
fell by 400,000 last year, to 14.3 million, even though the nation’s 
overall employment rose by 2.4 million. The percentage of workers in 
unions fell to 11.3 percent, down from 11.8 percent in 2011, the bureau 
found in its annual report on union membership. That brought 
unionization to its lowest level since 1916, when it was 11.2 percent, 
according to a study by two Rutgers economists, Leo Troy and Neil Sheflin.

Labor specialists cited several reasons for the steep one-year decline 
in union membership. Among the factors were new laws that rolled back 
the power of unions in Wisconsin, Indiana and other states, the 
continued expansion by manufacturers like Boeing and Volkswagen in 
nonunion states and the growth of sectors like retail and restaurants, 
where unions have little presence.

“These numbers are very discouraging for labor unions,” said Gary N. 
Chaison, a professor of industrial relations at Clark University in 
Worcester, Mass. “It’s a time for unions to stop being clever about 
excuses for why membership is declining, and it’s time to figure out how 
to devise appeals to the workers out there.”

Labor unions have boasted of their political successes in helping 
re-elect President Obama and in helping Democrats pick up seats in Congress.

But the figures announced by the bureau point to grave problems for the 
future of organized labor. The portion of private sector workers in 
unions fell to just 6.6 percent last year, from 6.9 percent in 2011, 
causing some labor specialists to question whether private sector unions 
were sinking toward irrelevance. Private sector union membership peaked 
at around 35 percent in the 1950s.

The report showed particular drops in union membership in two groups 
where unions have long been strong: local government employees and 
manufacturing workers.

Union membership showed sharp drops in Wisconsin, which passed a law in 
2011 curbing the collective bargaining rights of many public employees, 
and in Indiana, which enacted a right-to-work law last February that may 
have prompted many workers to drop their union membership.

Such laws prohibit requiring employees at unionized workplaces to pay 
union dues or fees. The bureau’s report showed that union membership 
fell by 13 percent last year in Wisconsin and by 18 percent in Indiana — 
both unusually large numbers for a single year.

Barry T. Hirsch, a labor economist at Georgia State University, said an 
analysis he conducted found that the number of government employees in 
Wisconsin belonging to a union slid by 48,000 last year, to 139,000 from 
187,000, as many public sector workers evidently decided to quit their 
unions after the Republican-led legislature stripped them of most of 
their bargaining rights.

Speaking about the nation as a whole, Professor Hirsch said: “I am 
really surprised that the drop in unionization was as large as it is in 
a single year, and it was particularly big in the public sector. It does 
seem you are seeing reductions in some of the states that you might expect.”

For instance, in Indiana, where the right to work law took effect last 
March, unionization dropped to 9.1 percent from 11.3 percent in 2011. 
Michigan enacted a similar law last month.

The bureau said union membership in the public sector — long a labor 
stronghold — fell to 35.9 percent in 2012, from 37 percent the previous 
year. The number of government workers in unions fell by 234,000, as 
many teachers, police officers and others lost their jobs. There were 
7.3 million public employees in unions, compared with seven million 
private sector workers.

William Spriggs, the A.F.L.-
C.I.O.’s chief economist, took a more upbeat approach to the report, 
noting that the bureau had found increased union membership in 
California, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas.

“It’s not a simple story that we don’t have our act together,” Mr. 
Spriggs said. “I would be more concerned if union membership was down 
among Latinos and Asian-Americans, because that’s a growing demographic, 
but it’s up.”

He acknowledged that unions were doing poorly in manufacturing, retail 
and elsewhere in the private sector, which has been adding jobs even as 
union membership continued a slide that has lasted for decades.

“Our labor laws do not favor unions organizing,” Mr. Spriggs said. “It 
would be one thing to say we’re bellyaching, but the Republican Party is 
really being vindictive against unions, and employers campaign very hard 
against workers unionizing.”

But Professor Chaison said now would seem a good time for unions to 
attract workers. “Workers should be looking to unions because of job 
insecurity and stagnant wages, but they’re not.”

In recent months, there has been an uptick in labor militancy as 
evidenced by recent protests at Walmarts across the nation and the 
one-day strike by fast-food workers in New York City last November. Both 
of those actions against nonunion employers protested what workers said 
were low wages and meager benefits. Union officials acknowledge that it 
is often hard to persuade a majority of employees at a big-box store or 
other workplaces to vote to unionize.

Glenn Spencer, vice president of the Workforce Freedom Initiative of the 
United States Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday’s report “has some 
alarm bells ringing at union headquarters across Washington.”

With workers no longer spending their entire career at one employer and 
often switching jobs, he said workers no longer felt as attracted to unions.

“Unions have fundamentally had a hard time conveying to workers what 
their value proposition is, how they’re really going to make workers’ 
lives better,” Mr. Spencer said. “And if you look at union contracts and 
their rigid work rules, there is no incentive for employers to embrace 
unions either.”

According to the report, North Carolina has the lowest unionization 
rate, 2.9 percent, followed by Arkansas, at 3.2 percent. New York had 
the highest unionization rate, 23.2 percent, with Alaska second, at 22.4 

The bureau said that among full-time workers, union members had median 
weekly earnings of $943 last year (about $49,000 annually), compared 
with $742 (about $38,600 annually), for comparable nonunion workers.

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