Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The American labor movement is popular, dominant and shrinking

Federalization efforts involving some of the most recognizable names in business have been making headlines across the United States in recent months. Starbucks employees in Buffalo and Bessemer, Ala., and Amazon employees on Staten Island have recently moved to unionize, as have employees at an REI store in Manhattan last week. The successful strikes of John Deere and Kellogg also drew new attention to the state of the labor movement.

The prominence of these organizing efforts, however, obscures the continuing declining trend of union membership in the United States for more than four decades. In 1983, about 20 percent of employees belonged to a union; By 2021, that number had dropped to just over 10 percent, according to data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.


Union membership has declined sharply in the United States.





10%

are employees

in a union

The American labor movement is popular, dominant and shrinking

10%

are employees

in a union


Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

by Taylor Johnson

Almost all the decline has been in the private sector.

Union membership among government employees at the federal, state, and local levels has been fairly consistent—about a third of workers, give or take some percentage point—since the 1970s.

On the other hand, among workers in private companies, union membership has declined steadily over the decades, falling from 17 percent in 1983 to 6 percent the previous year.


Sector wise share of employees being union members

Union membership in the private sector has declined almost every year since 1983.




The American labor movement is popular, dominant and shrinking

34%

union employees

In public Area

6%

union employees

In Personal Area

The American labor movement is popular, dominant and shrinking

34%

union employees

In public Area

6%

union employees

In Personal Area


Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

by Taylor Johnson

Ruth Milkman, a professor at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center and School of Labor and Urban Studies, said the vast difference in public and private trends over the past four decades can be attributed to private employer opposition as well as labor laws. . is strongly tilted in favor of employers.

Union Drive at Amazon in Bessemer and Starbucks in Buffalo were “textbook examples” of how an employer reacts when faced with a unionization attempt, she said. “Employers pull out all the stops to do everything possible to undermine it, to persuade workers not to vote for the union, to scare them into doing so,” she said.

This collection of tactics, done consistently over the years, gradually “erodes the unionization rate,” Dr. Milkman said.

Following the announcement of the Starbucks union campaign in Buffalo, company executives toured out of town. Activists in favor of unionization said they found the officers’ presence disruptive and intimidating.

A Starbucks spokesman, Reggie Borges, said the company’s actions did not constitute union-busting, adding that executives held optional meetings for employees to find out what unionization might mean for them. .

As with Bessemer Drive, in which workers voted against unionizing by a two-to-one margin, in November the National Labor Relations Board ordered a new union election after the union argued that an Amazon warehouse contained a collection box. The setting up of the Act had given workers the impression that the company was monitoring votes.

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“Our employees always have the choice of whether or not to join a union, and they made the overwhelming decision last year not to join RWDSU. We look forward to hearing from our team again at BHM1,” said Amazon. Barbara Agrit, a spokeswoman, said, referring to the retail, wholesale and department store union at the Bessemer location.

Although union participation has fallen, labor action has not seen a similar decline. The two recent banner years for work stoppages were 2018 and 2019. The action was inspired by the “Red for Aid” education strikes, in which teachers across the country organized walkouts demanding pay increases and school funding. After a lull in the first year and a half of the pandemic, work halts have resumed last fall.


Number of employees involved in stopping work

In 2018, about 485,000 people took part in mass strikes, the largest number since 1983.




The American labor movement is popular, dominant and shrinking

The American labor movement is popular, dominant and shrinking


Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Note: The data shows work pauses for one full shift or longer performed by 1,000 or more workers, rounded to the nearest thousand.

by Taylor Johnson

“I see what’s happening right now as part of that strike wave,” said Lane Windham, a labor historian at Georgetown University. “Like that worker rebellion that has been going on for a few years, but it has certainly been fueled by worker discontent during the pandemic.”

A record 4.5 million workers quit their jobs in the United States in November 2021, and more than four million workers left their jobs every month from July to November 2021, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I think people are voting with their feet. Those are the people who have no union saying, ‘I’m not doing this anymore,'” Dr. Windham said. “So they’re either quitting their jobs or refusing to take a bad job.”

Dr Milkman said the pandemic along with its many challenges has contributed to the labor shortage. In some cases, school closures and a lack of available child care cause parents – most of them women – to stop working for pay. Other workers choose to retire early, consider a career change, or live on savings for a period.

“This means that employers are having trouble finding workers; This means any given worker can be picky about which job they take,” said Dr Milkman.

In November 2020, there were approximately 6.8 million job opportunities in the United States. A year later, according to the same data, there were about 10.6 million.

“Everyone is recruiting. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen in this country in recent memory,” Dr. Milkman said. “It doesn’t necessarily lead to union activity, but it certainly makes workers feel like they can be more demanding, either individually or collectively.”

Even as union membership continues to decline in recent years, the labor movement’s popularity is at its highest in decades—according to a Gallup poll, 68 percent of Americans approve of labor unions.


The high approval rating may be partly due to increased awareness of union activity due to media coverage of major event efforts. Much of the media coverage of the recent union drive has focused on high-profile companies, Dr. Windham said.

(Incidentally, the media organizations themselves are among the private companies that have seen a huge organizational wave in the past decade – by one count, organized more than 100 outlets since 2015 – though they make up a much smaller portion of the private sector. represent.)

“Many journalists highlight organizing at the companies that their readers are most likely to know – such as Starbucks and Amazon – and have paid less attention to smaller brands or companies, or to organizing among blue-collar work that There’s more behind the scenes, like in manufacturing,” Dr Windham said. “But, overall, there appears to be a general increase in reporting on labor and labor issues, particularly in the pandemic, and it is not limited to all the big names.”

In companies of all sizes and profiles, a labor trend has been noticeable in recent years: women are playing a bigger role in organizing union drives, organizing strikes, and generally becoming union members.

“Many people think of labor unions as largely male-dominated industries, but in reality, surprisingly, people don’t realize that women are half of the labor movement, and in growing sectors of the economy. are predominantly women,” said Liz Schuler, the president of the AFL-CIO.

While men continue to have higher rates of union membership than women, the gap between those rates has almost closed in recent years. Women now make up about 47 percent of all union members.


Percentage of union membership by gender




The American labor movement is popular, dominant and shrinking

10.6%

salaried men

are in a union

9.9%

salaried Woman

are in a union

The American labor movement is popular, dominant and shrinking

10.6%

salaried men

are in a union

9.9%

salaried Woman

are in a union


Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

by Taylor Johnson

According to Dr. Milkman, the decline of unions in the private sector, which were historically male-dominated, and the steady rate of union membership in the public sector also reflect the increasing role of women in today’s labor movement.

Some so-called pink-collar jobs – which have historically been associated, and are still primarily held by women – are among the occupations with higher-than-average union membership. For example, according to an analysis of government data, about 17 percent of employed registered nurses and 46 percent of preschool through secondary school teachers are union members.

The labor movement provides an outlet for women to voice some of their longstanding concerns about their work, Ms Schuler said, including equal work for equal pay, better health care benefits and the fight against on-the-job harassment.

“It gives me great hope that women are finding their rightful place in leadership in the labor movement, and that they are leading the way quietly and from the front,” Ms. Schuler said. “They are leading those picket lines. They are leading those political mobilizations, and they are leading the collective bargaining table to show that the labor movement is a movement for women.”

Nation World News Desk
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