Are Labor Unions Dying? | DCR Workforce Blog

Are Labor Unions Dying?

NLRB LogoUnion membership as a whole and particularly in the private sector has seen a significant decline in the USA, over the years. The percentage of unionized workers in America stands at a paltry 11% when compared to the 28% in Canada and 70% in Finland. In many companies, workers are rejecting the establishment of unions.  In 2013, union membership in the public sector fell to 35.3 percent, marking the second consecutive year of significant decline. Two groups where unions have long been strong, local government employees and manufacturing workers experienced some of the largest declines in membership. This brings up the question: Are unions redundant, serving no purpose anymore?

Recently, Amazon’s workers accepted their management’s contention that workers need to enjoy individual connection with their managers and voted against forming a union. Of course, the vote was limited to a small group of 30 technical workers and is not representative of the thousands of packers and shippers employed in Amazon’s warehouses. This is not the first time that Amazon managed such a victory against unionization at its facilities in America; though in Germany it has faced striking unions against its workplace policies. A similar victory was achieved by Amazon in the year 2000.    The situation at Amazon is not uncommon.  Technical workers, and other workers whose skills are in high demand, have historically preferred to let market conditions determine their compensation, knowing that employers would compete for their services by offering attractive compensation, benefits and work environments.

What is driving the decline in union membership?  Is it that fewer companies are being unionized, or that fewer workers are willing to become union members? It can be argued that positions taken by union executives during the recent recession have alienated their membership.  Faced with massive lay-offs, there have been numerous examples of suppressing strikes and walk-outs, reductions in pensions and healthcare benefits, and requirements for longer working hours without premium compensation.   Labor specialists also cited additional causes of the steep decline in union membership, including new laws that rolled back the power of unions in Wisconsin, Indiana and other states, the continued expansion by manufacturers like Boeing and Volkswagen in nonunion states and the growth of sectors like retail and restaurants, where unions have little presence.

Increased job mobility, as well as the growth in the percentage of contingent workers, also plays a role in defining the future of unions.  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) protects the rights of all workers – permanent and temporary – to unionize and protest against the treatment being meted out to them by an employer.  With workers no longer spending their entire career at one employer, and often taking short-term position, Unions must redefine and convey to workers how they’re really going to make workers’ lives better.  In particular, those seeking the freedom of temporary engagements are resistant to the rigid work rules imposed by union contracts.

Can we expect to see union officials communicating a new value proposition to workers in 2014?

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.