Friday, January 23, 2015

The Decline of Union Membership

Union membership has been on the decline for over two decades and doesn't appear to be slowing. A recent press release from the DOL shows that in 2014 union membership rate declined over the past year by .2% ending at 11.1% of all workers. Public sector unionization rates were still flat at 35.7%. Those who were union members earned approximately 10K annually over those who were not union members. The decline is part of a larger trend in the American economy.

According to a study released in 2013 by the Pew Research Center there has been a decline from the 20% in 1983 to 11.3% in 2013. Public attitude has shifted among regions. The Northeast and Midwest, with its once all powerful manufacturing base, greatly supported unions by 74% but that has declined in recent years to 65%. The culture of the United States is shifting away from unions.

We learn that not only has manufacturing shifted to Southern states but also attitudes toward unions have also shifted. The south has not taken well to the idea of unionization based upon their agricultural and historical differences with the manufacturing north. Southern states have become lucrative places for new manufacturing operations to open their doors.

It is also important to realize that with the change from the manufacturing era to the informational age there are differences in cultural perception. Those who work in individualistic type jobs like sales, design, and service are not necessarily going to understand the collective benefits of being in a union.  Their occupations and rearing are different than the industrial age collectivism of the past.

Furthermore, greater pressure is placed on the American worker to be more productive. Cheap labor, manufacturing companies moving overseas, and rising benefit costs have made union membership expensive for companies. The poor economy and impending lay-offs gave unions a difficult choice of either making concessions or facing the loss of their membership.

With new types of work, living arrangements, and ages there are natural changes in the cultural landscape. As American regains its competitive stance, wage disparity becomes a bigger issue, and manufacturing returns home, changes may again occur that could support unionization. Before this will occur unions will have to find a new core purpose and change their models to become more relevant to a new generation of highly skilled American workers.

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