Four Reasons For The Decline In Union Membership
The percentage of workers in the private sector who belong to labor unions has shrunk to 6.9 percent. Labor historians report that this is the lowest rate of union membership in America since 1910. Despite the expenditure of vast amounts of money, effort and government influence by the labor movement, this trend shows every prospect of continuing. How did union membership decline so much?
Simply put, American workers now see the unions as part of the problem, not part of the solution. There are a number of reasons that account for this negative perception.
1. Unions often seem irrelevant. In good times, workers don’t need unions to secure increases in wages and benefits because everybody profits from economic prosperity. In bad times, unions can’t protect their members from layoffs, wage and benefit reductions and tougher working conditions. In fact, union contracts often seem to make things worse. The high cost of union labor is often cited as a contributing factor to the demise of many companies. Whole industries have fled the United States, attracted by the lure of cheap foreign labor. Other industries struggle to remain competitive.
2. Unions have a poor public image as being bloated, inefficient and often downright corrupt. Stories about labor racketeering, mob influence and trials of union officials for embezzlement and bribery are common fare on the evening news. Employers are often able to use this aura of greed and corruption to blunt union organizing campaigns.
3. Workers are often “out of sync” with union politics. The labor movement is perceived as being a vassal the Democratic Party and a champion of liberal causes. These most recently include immigration reform and national healthcare. Vast amounts of money and manpower have devoted to support labor-approved candidates and issues. Yet many workers, particularly in the South, are deeply conservative and simply do not support these causes. They do not want their union dues going to support issues and politicians with which they disagree.
4. Most Americans now turn to government, not unions, for basic protections. Workers rely on the government for pensions, healthcare, protection against discrimination and a whole variety of other benefits that were formerly provided exclusively by unions.
Unless the labor movement finds a way to reverse its long-standing decline, unions run the danger of their membership shrinking into irrelevance.
Perry Heidecker is senior counsel for Milman Labuda Law Group PLLC, Lake Success, N.Y. The firm is a full-service Employment Law practice focused on counseling, preventive advice and training, policy and procedure design, representation before administrative agencies, litigation, and appeals.
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