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Union Membership In Decline Due To Austerity Cuts, Not Members Leaving

Yesterday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a new report that shows that union membership slipped slightly over the last year.  The report show that overall union membership went from 11.8% of the workforce to 11.3%.

I am sure that right-wing pundits are going to continue to say that this decline shows that people do not want union representation anymore.  I would beg to differ. The fact of the matter is America is adding jobs and growing our economy. The problem is that many of these jobs are not eligible for union representation, or are struggling to gain representation.

“Throughout most of the recession union membership in Oregon grew as more workers realized the importance of having a voice at work. But we knew that eventually the job losses would translate to lower membership numbers, and that appears to have caught up with us this year,” said
Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain.

Workers like those at Wal-Mart and American Airlines have been fighting for years to gain representation rights.  Think of what these numbers would be if we added the two million Wal-Mart employees to the list of union-represented workers.  OUR Walmart, which organized the national ‘Black Friday’ boycott/picket of Walmart is working to organize those workers and give them a voice on the job.

The problem with organizing is that even when workers overwhelmingly want and need union representation, the process makes it very difficult to get that representation.  This is the exact case with CWA and American Airlines service agents.  They have been working to hold a representation election for over a year.  During this wait, American Airlines has laid off hundreds of employees and replaced them with temporary (ineligible for representation) workers.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka stated:

“Working women and men urgently need a voice on the job today, but the sad truth is that it has become more difficult for them to have one, as today’s figures on union membership demonstrate. “

The second reason for this decline is the massive cuts in the public sector throughout the US.  Public employee unions represent more of their workforce than any other occupation.  Jobs cutsWhen the government sheds jobs, that results in a loss of union membership. The biggest hit, percentage wise, was at the local level.  This is teachers, firefighters, police officers, and municipal workers.  Last year alone, local governments cut nearly 100,000 jobs.

The Federal sector has also taken a beating.  As you can see from this chart, since 2010 alone the Federal Sector has dropped over 2% of its workforce.  Since 30% of the Federal workforce are members of a union, this means 1 in 3 federal job cuts is a union member no longer on the payroll.

One other area that has seen a significant drop in union membership is directly affected by the Government: the building trades.

Many states have greatly slowed their infrastructure investments over the last four to five years. These cuts have made it even harder on the already struggling building trades. Even with the Federal mandate to use project labor agreements (PLAs), if the states are not spending money, there are fewer union jobs.

It begs the question: how would union membership have been affected if Congress had acted on the American Jobs Act, instead of insisting on austerity cuts?

Many of the private-sector occupations have actually seen growth in union membership.  Combine that with the potential of over one million new jobs to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, and I firmly believe that the number of union members would actually be on the rise for the first time in many years.



About Matt Murray

Matt Murray is the creator and an author on the NH Labor News. He is a union member and advocate for labor and progressive politics. He also works with other unions and members to help spread our message. Follow him on Twitter @NHLabor_News
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