Union membership in a free fall, reaches 70-year low

unionsSomething is afoot with unions in America. Even with strong backing from the highest levels of government, it looks as if an ineffectual attitude toward organized labor has taken hold.

“I’ve said this before publicly, and I’ll say it again: I make no apologies for it,” President Barack Obama once said of labor unions. “I am a pro-union guy.”

When Obama first picked outgoing Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, then-AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said he was “thrilled.”

“President Obama has your back, and so do I,” Solis told United Food and Commercial Workers Union convention-goers, according to the Washington Times.

And at a convention of the plumbers and pipe fitters union, Solis addressed her audience as “brothers and sisters” and called the labor union movement “our movement.”

The Washington Free Beacon’s Bill McMorris noted recently that the Obama administration has turned the National Labor Relations Board into “a bastion of pro-union activism,” based on results from a House investigation that showed a “strong pro-union bias.”

But, in spite of arguably the most union-friendly president since John F. Kennedy, a decidedly pro-union labor secretary and a NLRB described as a hotbed of pro-union activism, union membership in America is at a 70-year low.

The Detroit News is reporting that the nation’s unions lost 400,000 members in 2012, as the percentage of U.S. union workers fell to 11.3 percent, its lowest level since the 1930s — declining by 0.5 percent over the last year.

Among public sector workers, 35.9 percent are in a union – down from 37.0 percent in 2011, the report states, the public sector shed nearly 250,000 union workers.

A Bureau of Labor Statistics report also shows that private-sector unionization rates fell from 6.9 percent to 6.6 percent as private-sector unions lost 165,000 members, according to the Heritage Foundation.

This latest blow to labor unions comes in the wake of the almost-shocking news that Michigan — a state once at the heart of the labor movement and one the Washington Post says still boasts the fifth-highest unionization rate in the nation — is now a right-to-work state.

Of course, we can’t forget the stinging set back unions experienced in Wisconsin, where a shift in attitude may have surfaced first. Not only did the Badger State strip public employees of collective bargaining rights, but Gov. Scott Walker easily withstood a recall election initiated in part by organized labor.

And between the happenings in Wisconsin and Michigan, Indiana approved right-to-work legislation.

When given a choice, many are choosing non-union, as reflected in BSL numbers. Membership in labor unions dropped last year in Wisconsin by 46,000, and by 56,000 in Indiana since it’s new right-to-work law took effect last March.

A decline in public approval is also reflected in an August Gallup poll, which indicates that 52 percent of Americans approve of labor unions, compared to 65 percent in the mid-1990s.

So what is driving these actions?

Is it possible that the tipping point in attitudes toward unions was the NLRB’s 2009 lawsuit over Boeing’s decision to open an assembly plant in the right-to-work state of South Carolina, or is this a continuation of a long-term trend?

Have unions outlived their usefulness in the ultra-competitive markets of today? Is this a result of unions resisting individual performance pay? Is it due to belt-tightening states now have to endure because of the economy?

James Sherk, a senior policy analyst in labor economics at The Heritage Foundation, suggests that labor laws do not meet the needs of modern American workers and that Congress should bring labor law into the 21st century:

Congress should remove the Section 8(a)(2) proscription on employee involvement programs. Congress should also remove unions’ ability to veto individual raises.

Some in Congress are trying to do so. Senator Marco Rubio (R–FL) and Representative Todd Rokita (R–IN) introduced the Rewarding Achievement and Incentivizing Successful Employees (RAISE) Act, which would retain union rates as a wage floor while ensuring they never set a maximum on what employees earn.

One thing is certain: Organized labor will never find a more hospitable climate at the federal level than what it enjoys today. As bleak as the outlook may be, should unions find themselves in a more balanced environment, things could really get tough.



5 thoughts on “Union membership in a free fall, reaches 70-year low

  1. KB Cook says:

    what a great trend! Perhaps freedom is taking root and tapping into the culture of our nation more than can be seen at surface level

  2. Ted says:

    I think that the union marginalizing will eventually end. With the trend in right-to-work states increasing, it will only be a matter of time until those marginalized workers will react and demand better pay and conditions. I look at it as unavoidable. I also have to add that most of us enjoy the standard of living we have because of unions. Think AFL-CIO involvement in the labor movement in the 18 and 1900's. If you have one relative that worked as a cop, firefighter, teacher, health worker, machinist, electrical worker, you have been the beneficiary of a union. Without unions, the American workforce would be little more than serfs in a feudal system of employment. Women would have no recourse in sex abuse situations. Someone's idiot nephew can be hired because his aunt happens to be the mistress of the boss. Check out "The Jungle", by Upton Sinclair. Its a classic and , for the times, accurate of what was happening. My grandfather was a boss in the stock yards that used to be only a couple of miles from the LA City Hall and was right in the middle of that nightmare. I personally have seen what unions do for workers and I think there should be more union membership. Many businesses are not trhe benevolent institutions you think they are for humanitarian reasons. They are better to their workers to avoid having to deal with a union. To this day, I will not knowingly cross a pickett line. I know the benefits. I also know the abuses, and those are the pendulem swinging the other way. We can all do better. Think of it, how would you like that EMT working on you as you go unconscious, to be underpaid and thinking about other things while you should be the center of his or her attention. Naturally, EMTs, in my experience, have always shown the highest level of professionalism. I only used it as a thinking example. You could make any profession in this example. Just saying…

    1. Castaway50 says:

      For a group that calls themselves peaceful, they are far from it when they're on strike and picketing. The vast majority of them

      take that time to to get drunk and be violent towards anyone willing to cross their picket lines. Even vandalizing private property of who they work for or those they refer to as scabs. There was a time for unions years ago but now days it's mostly

      about the money, the dues they take in. I've never been in a union and I wouldn't want to be. As a retired trucker, I've had to endure their ignorance and rude, obnoxious behavior. Not to mention being shot at in the late 70's when steel haulers

      went on strike. I assume that was by an idiot Teamsters member. And the company I drove for only had freight and reefer trailers. We did not haul any steel. So, take your unions and hopefully, they'll eventually die out.

  3. Big Dem says:

    Individuals are realizing that the usefulness of labor unions has diminished dramatically inthe past 30 years, and that they have morphed into large political oprganizations that use dues to drive socialism policies and create power for the union bosses. It used to be union bosses were thought of as organized crime thugs; now they are political thugs bent on remaking America into the failed system that is killing Europe. Their fury is coming out full force now that reality is hitting them and the hooliganism they use will burst into full bloom soon. Violence in the streets is returning to America, folks. I was a freshman in high school when America went up in flames to chants of "Burn, baby, burn!" in the summer of '68. I worry the class envy that is being purposefully stoked by our president is designed to provoke civil unrest, and union thugs and political activists are more than willing to provide it. Obama believes the citizens will then demand the government restore order, which will be all he needs to use the "crisis" to restrict and eventually eliminate our rights as stated in the Constitution. Call me a tin foil hat guy if you will, but this has all the ingrediants of the Cloward and Piven plan when I was taught it in college in the early 1970's.

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