Union movement today and tomorrow

About 35% of the non-farm US workforce belonged to unions in the 1960s. Recently that figure dropped to about 12%. Why has this occurred and what is future for the same.

Why Union membership is down

As we said earlier, several things contributed to union membership decline. Laws like OSHA and Title VII of the civil rights act reduced the need for the traditional protective role union’s play. Increased global competition and new technologies like the Internet and just in time production systems forced employers to reduce inefficiencies and cut costs – often by reducing payrolls by automating or by sending jobs abroad. This squeezes union. For example, with GM’s performance stumbling the United Auto Workers recently agreed to give back rights to benefits they previously won. New foreign owned auto plants from Toyota, Nissan, BMW, and Daimler Chrysler largely stayed union free. Only about 15% of US workers are now employed in manufacturing and construction, so unions, traditional membership sources shrank. Some union leaders also believe that new labor management cooperation tactics (like employees participation teams) undermine unions’ traditional prerogatives

An Upswing for Unions:

However, the news is not all bleak. For one thing the 12% unionization figure conceals the real impact unions have on the US economy. Union membership varies widely by sate, so unions are still quite influential in some states (such as Michigan and New York) and fully 35% of the nation’s blue collar workers in particular those in manufacturing and construction jobs belong to unions. Furthermore, a slight majority of all union members (about 51%) are now white collar which suggests unions are having success tapping this growing portion of the workforce. For example an optical physicist at the national aeronautics and space administration is also the president f his local union. White collar union members include about 40% of all college faculty members, 45,000 physicians 50,000 engineers, and almost 100,000 nurses who belong to unions (as do most major league baseball, foot ball, basketball, and hockey players). About 40% of all federal, state and local government employees belong to unions. Recently, the union win rate in elections increased a bit to 57.8% of elections held. Union membership declines seem to have leveled off. And, so we’ll see unions themselves are becoming much more aggressive.

Public Employees and Unions

One bright spot the union movement is their success in organizing federal, state and municipal workers. With at least 7 million public sector unions members the public sector represents at least 44% of total US Union membership Three public unions – the National education association , the American Federation of State, county and Municipal Employees an the American Federation of Teachers – are among the largest nine US unions.

The unions’ success in organizing public employees reflects in part, years of changes in public sector collective bargaining and labor relations legislation. The national Labor Relations Act does not cover public employees. However, other laws do extend to public employees much the same rights. For example, in 1962, President John F Kennedy signed executive order 10988. The recognized federal employees’ rights to join or refrain from joining labor organizations and granted recognition to those organizations. In 1978 congress passed the Civil service reform act of 1978. Title VII of this act (known as the Federal Labor relations act) is similar to the National Labor Relations act. It gave the new Federal Labor Relations Authority: New authority to oversee federal public sector, labor relations. Among other things this Title VII prohibits the government from restraining or coercing employees in the exercise of their organizational rights or from encouraging or discouraging union membership. Similarly labor organizations may not interfere with the employees rights to unionize or to refrain from organizing.