[Marxism] Union membership at 97 year low
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%
By STEVEN GREENHOUSE
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
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
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
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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