Labor leaders received the happy, surprising news that union membership
had increased by 311,000 in 2007?to end a steady decline for more than two
decades, according to data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As
result, labor can now claim that it represents 12.1 percent of the U.S.
workforce, instead of 12 percent, and that its latest organizing success
lifts its representation in the private sector to 7.5 percent. To put it
another way, today only one of eight workers belongs to a union, and in
private sector, the figure is less than one out of 12.
It would be nice to believe that 2008 will be the beginning of an
upsurge in union organizing; that the AFL-CIO and Change to Win will take
advantage of its new-found momentum to launch a crusade to organize the 50
million workers who say they want a union, and to mobilize their members
participate in that effort.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that top union leaders have the
desire?or the ability?to undertake this massive recruiting effort. Their
focus is not on organizing but on passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.
They appear willing to mark time for another 15 months or more until,
hopefully, it becomes a law.
Most of the 311,000 membership gains came from three sources: hospital
unions added 142,000; construction unions, 96.000, and about 80,000 came
from union deals with two state legislatures that covered child care and
home care providers,
In 23 States, Unions Represent 10% or Less of Workers
All along the South and in the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states,
unions have been shackled by restrictions imposed on them by the Taft
Hartley Act (1947). In more than a half century, the AFL-CIO has made only
an occasional, half-hearted attempt to rescind the anti-union measure. In
five southern states, unions represent 4 percent or less of their
Weak unions cannot win decent contracts for their members. They are a
prey to concession bargaining. Here is another BLS item worth noting: In
2007, real wages, adjusted for inflation, declined by 0.9 percent, the
biggest drop in average weekly pay since 1990.
Union leaders rarely blame themselves for labor's poor organizing
record. It's all the employers' fault that millions of workers resist
joining a union, they say. But there are several other reasons why we
convince millions of workers to join us. These reasons are addressed in
this series of articles, "Why Workers Won't Join," in the hope of a public
debate on how to build a "bigger and stronger" labor movement.
We believe that unless the two labor federations make a series of
changes in their policies and practices, the American Dream will remain a
source for rhetoric, not a reality.
Article 6: "Why Workers Won't Join" will be posted here on
For back issues of this series, visit our web site: http://www.laboreducator.org/.