An Analysis of Union Membership Trends in the United States Essay
Introduction to Labor Union
Labor unions are made up of working people working together to solve problems, build stronger workplaces and give working families a real voice. Unions give workers a voice on the job about safety, security, pay, benefits—and about the best ways to get the work done. Union workers earn 28 percent more each week than nonunion workers and are much more likely to have health and pension benefits. Unions give working people a voice in government. They represent working families before lawmakers, and make sure politicians never forget that working families voted them into office.
The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) is the largest union organization in United States, this is considered to be the most influential labor union, and small groups of union are affiliated with them. According to their website (www.aflcio.org) the voluntary federation of America’s unions, representing 10 million working women and men nationwide and another 1 million nonunion workers of Working America.
The AFL-CIO was formed in 1955 by the merger of the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations.
According to Greer (2006) year 1995 was supposed to be the beginning of a new era for United States labor unions. That year, an attempt to reform federal labor law broke down in the face of the dramatic 1994 Republican victory in congressional elections. In the first serious contest for AFLCIO leadership ever, several national union presidents blocked the incumbent’s hand-picked successor and elected John Sweeney. Sweeney had been president of the SEIU, the fastest growing union in the country, which was organizing workers in janitorial services, healthcare and the public sector (as well as absorbing smaller unions in these areas). Since 1985, according to AFL-CIO statistics, the SEIU bad expanded from less than 700,000 to more than a million members, not only through mergers but also through innovative strategies like the Justice for Janitors campaign, and a highly effective healthcare organizing strategy.
American workers are less likely to belong to a union than they were in the past. While the extent of union membership differs significantly across the industrial spectrum, the proportion of all wage and salary workers belonging to unions or employee associations similar to labor unions has declined from nearly a fourth in the late 1970s to only 13.5 percent in 2001. The proportional decline is related both to the rapid increase in employment in services-providing industries, where participation in the union movement has traditionally been very low, and to the decline or relative stagnation in employment in those goods-producing industries where union membership has historically been more prevalent. The actual number of workers belonging to unions remained fairly stable, in absolute terms, during the 1990s, after declining rapidly in the 1980s. However, because total wage and salary employment has continued to increase rapidly, the proportion of workers belonging to unions has continued to shrink as a percentage of the total. (Greer, 2006)
Advantages of Joining a Union
According to Labor Research (www.laborresearch.org) union workers receive employer-paid benefits that far exceed the benefits employers provide for nonunion workers, and the union advantage is growing wider. For years, employers have been canceling benefit coverage and shifting more of the remaining costs to workers. Unions have been able to fight off this employer attack on benefits, but nonunion workers have been left with inadequate health care protections and no retirement security.
The union contract provides each bargaining unit member with access to “due process” through the grievance and arbitration procedure.
No formal grievance process with arbitration. In some cases,
There may be an internal, self-policing “appeals” process that is ultimately unenforceable.
Wages, benefits and working conditions
These are negotiated. All members have the opportunity to improve their working conditions through contract negotiations at the bargaining table.
All are unilaterally set by the employer. No avenue for employee input. Management gives what it wants to.
Hiring, promotions, transfers, layoffs
All are governed by the contract. Seniority and other objective standards apply.
Changes can be made at any time, without warning, by the employer alone.
Any disciplinary action is usually subject to the “just cause” standard, meaning that there is a burden of proof on the employer to justify the discipline.
Workers are “employees at will” meaning that they are subject
to discipline and termination for no reason at all, depending on the whims of the employer. No just cause standard applies.
These rights allow an employee to have a union representative present during investigatory meetings when discipline may result.
No such rights. Recently, the National Labor Relations Board
reversed its position and took away these rights in non-union facilities.
Voice in the Workplace
Employees have a real and formal voice in their working conditions at the bargaining table.
Employers may listen to the employees and then do whatever they choose to do, regardless.
Access to Information
The union, through its officers and floor representatives, has access to facility information in order to investigate grievances and for contract negotiations.
Employees have no rights of access to information.
The employer tells employees what it wants to. Information is closely guarded.
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics In 2006, 12.0 percent of employed wage and salary workers were union members, down from 12.5 percent a year earlier. The number of persons belonging to a union fell by 326,000 in 2006 to 15.4 million. The union membership rate has steadily declined from 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available. Some highlights from the 2006 data are:
Ø Workers in the public sector had a union membership rate nearly five times that of private sector employees.
Ø Education, training, and library occupations had the highest unionization rate among all occupations, at 37 percent.
Ø The unionization rate was higher for men than for women.
Ø Black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.
Demographic Characteristics of Union Members (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
In 2006, the union membership rate was higher for men (13.0 percent) than for women (10.9 percent). The gap between their rates has narrowed considerably since 1983, when the rate for men was about 10 percentage points higher than the rate for women. This narrowing occurred because the union membership rate for men declined more rapidly than the rate for women over the period. Black workers were more likely to be union members (14.5 percent) than were whites (11.7 percent), Asians (10.4 percent), or Hispanics (9.8 percent). Among age groups, union membership rates were highest among workers 45 to 64 years old (16.0 percent) and were lowest among those ages 16 to 24 (4.4 percent). Full-time workers were more than twice as likely as part-time workers to be union members, 13.1 and 6.3 percent, respectively.
In 2006, full-time wage and salary workers who were union members had median usual weekly earnings of $833, compared with a median of $642 for wage and salary workers who were not represented by unions. The difference reflects a variety of influences in addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, including variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, firm size, or geographic region. (For a discussion of the problem of differentiating between the influence of unionization status and the influence of other worker characteristics on employee earnings, see “Measuring union-nonunion earnings differences,” Monthly Labor Review, June 1990.)
And, in addition to all of the above, according to a recent study (Belman, 1992), unions translate into increased productivity for the employer with better training, less turnover and longer tenure of the workforce. There is a clear and measurable benefit for labor and management when workers have a real and legitimate voice in the workplace.
Unions are not only favorable to employees per se; the company in turn has an advantage towards it. The agreement between the two could lead into a win – win situation, voices between them should be heard not only one side of it, why? Companies need effective and efficient employees to meet their goals and mission, while employees need satisfying wages and benefits. There are some studies that correlate performance with better benefits and wages, and this leads to productivity. Productivity in workplace is very essential for a company to succeed, and productivity means profit, which is an advantage for both of them. Increase in profit could also lead to increase in salaries and additional benefits as well.
Employees have their own choice to be a member of a union or not. Employers also have a choice to listen or not. In both ways, there should be an agreement, a communication and a commitment, that whatever discussion that would arise will be beneficial to both parties. Thus, this will lead to a healthy working environment, satisfied employees, and a great company to work for.
Belman, Dale (1992). Unions, the Quality of Labor Relations, and Firm Performance. In Lawrence Mishel and Paula P. Voos (eds), Unions and Economic Competitiveness (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe): 41-107.
Greer, I (2006) Business union vs. business union? Understanding the split in the US labour movement. Capital & Class, Autumn2006 Issue 90, p1-6, 6p;
Twarog, J (2005) “The benefits of union membership: numerous and measurable” can be accessed at http://www.massnurses.org/labor/education/2005/may/benefits.htm (accessed February 20, 2007)
“Union Advantage For Benefits Grows Wider” (October 11, 2005) Can be accessed at
http://www.laborresearch.org/story2.php/402 (accessed February 20, 2007)
“Union Members in 2006” can be accessed at http://www.bls.gov/cps (accessed February 19, 2007)
“The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) website” can be accessed at http://www.aflcio.org (accessed February 19, 2007)