National Union Membership Continues its Decline - American Society of Employers - Michael Burns

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National Union Membership Continues its Decline

Union StatsIn case you missed it, last week the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its union membership data for 2021. Union membership declined by 241,000 to 14,000,000 union members. Total U.S. union membership as a percentage of the workforce declined from 10.8% to 10.3%.

This year’s number was a bit of a statistical anomaly because in 2020 union membership as a percentage of total US workforce increased a bit due to the lower number of workers in the labor force because of COVID. The disproportionate decline in nonunion workers in 2020 caused a statistical increase in union membership data that as nonunion workers rejoined the workforce this year the union membership percentage statistically decreased in 2021.

The 10.3% number includes both private and government workers. There is a significantly higher number of union members in the government (public sector) with 33.9% of government workers in a union. Only 6.1% of private-sector workers are in a union these days.

Where did Michigan’s unionization rate fall in 2021? It fell to 13.3% down from 15.2% in 2020. Again, the significant year over year drop from 2020 is due to a big increase in non-union Michigan workers coming back into the workforce in 2021. New York and Hawaii are the most unionized states these days with 22.4% of Hawaii’s workers in a union and 22.2% of New York workers unionized.

Given recent survey data showing union approval ratings at 68% and at the highest level in 50 years (2021 Gallup poll), shouldn’t union membership be increasing? One would think. And though the additional tail wind has not yet hit the union’s sails so to speak, organized labor has the total support of the Biden Administration with a President that is a “true believer.”

The current administration’s pro labor agenda is still getting set up in the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Now that the Biden Administration has its majority on the Board, we will start seeing more labor friendly decisions handed down. Don’t forget, the NRLB looks at non-union employer policies and practices with its decisions.

As unions strive to turn around decades of loss, they have increasingly turned to friendly government administrations, legislators, and agencies to do the work of organizing for them. The crown jewel of government support would be the passage of the PRO Act. This proposed law could substantially change Big Labor’s atrophied organizing efforts.

As reported in CCH HR Compliance Library’s update, here is some of what the PRO Act would do:

  • Revise the definitions of employee, supervisor, and employer to broaden the scope of individuals covered by fair labor standards;
  • Allow labor organizations to encourage union member participation in strikes initiated by employees represented by a different labor organization (i.e., secondary strikes);
  • Prohibit employers from bringing claims against unions that conduct such secondary strikes;
  • Permit collective bargaining agreements to require all employees represented by the bargaining unit to contribute fees to the labor organization for the cost of representation, notwithstanding a state law to the contrary;
  • Expand unfair labor practices to include prohibitions against replacement of, or discrimination against, workers who participate in strikes;
  • Make it an unfair labor practice to require or coerce employees to attend employer meetings designed to discourage union membership; and
  • Prohibit employers from entering into agreements with employees under which employees waive the right to pursue or join collective or class-action litigation.

So far and fortunately for employers this Bill is still sitting in congressional committee – probably until other more pressing legislation is dealt with.

Without significant changes to labor law, it is doubtful organized labor can move the dial much nationally speaking. That’s not to say they are not trying. Two big targets right now for unionization are Amazon and Starbucks. Amazon is fighting off organizing at some of its warehouses and was recently cited for anti-union activity around an election at its Bessemer, Alabama facility. The NLRB forced Amazon into a settlement severely restricting its union avoidance activity and ordered a new election at that warehouse.

Starbucks is a much harder organizing target because shops have to vote on unionizing one at a time. Two shops in Buffalo, New York voted union but unlike Amazon where hundreds if not more would be unionized, Starbucks shops are only a few dozen in size if that. A much more “laborious” process to accomplish by a union. And that is probably why unions are not making significant inroads in growth. At the end of the day the labor market is too diversified, transient, and spread out. Even with electronic communications, organizing them takes a lot of work that unions do not have the resources to spend on to truly make a difference. That is why they have to rely on a friendly government and a substantial change in organizing laws so that the government and the law does their organizing for them.

ASE’s resources and services are a comprehensive union avoidance program our members benefit from all year long. Salary and benefits data published annually allows our members to pay competitively to market. Supervisory and leadership development training ensures your management effectively leads and does not create employee relations problems. Impactful employee engagement survey tools are available to keep up on what is important to your employees to know when and what organizing issues are out there in your workforce.

Sources: Employment Law. Amazon-NLRB Deal a Union Game Changer (1/29/2022) CCH HR Answers Now Compliance Library. Union Membership Rates Down, But Why?


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