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How the Decline in Union Membership is Hurting All of Us: Report


How the Decline in Union Membership is Hurting All of Us: Report

Deirdre Fulton, staff writer

The decline of organized labor in the United States has contributed significantly to wage stagnation and rising inequality, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

"Rebuilding our system of collective bargaining is an important tool available for fueling wage growth for both low- and middle-wage workers and ending the era of persistent wage stagnation."
—Economic Policy Institute


A number of right wing small-business owning acquaintances and co-workers cannot even utter the word “union” without sounding like they are nauseous.


Since the 1980s, from “Generation X” onward, we have been living under this steroid-pumped version of the “Protestant work ethic” where great moral virtue is ascribed to sacrificing one’s life to a capitalist boss - such behavior being inexplicably described as “individualist”! Until we can consign this sick
“ethic” to hell, union organizing will remain the most demoralizing and thankless occupation out there.


Right, but they’ll babble on endlessly about how wonderful right-to-work states are.


The unions are also to blame.
“The principle aim of any labour union must be change which anticipates socialism…Or else it just wastes its time, as American unions do, struggling along on bended knee for capitalism’s sake…”


Even more insidious is what is implied in cynical sound bite “right to work” for such ALEC legislation. By my reading it drops the veil on the ‘privatization’ tsunami of vulture capitalism.

Worker owned businesses with union principles built in - I imagine a national recovery program in the Mondragon style model.


Spain has an entire region that is filled with nothing but worker owned business. They call it the co-op.
The area never experiences booms or busts and recessions are a thing of the past.


Not totally true, the guys in my area are constantly going on about how there should be no public sector unions whatsoever, although they do try and avoid mentioning police and fire unions as much as possible, and prefer to stomp all over teacher’s and other public unions.


Interesting tidbit there about the difference in the effect by sex. Data we see on how much women earn as a percentage of the amount made by men in the private sector has shown an improvement the last several decades. This article shows a key way that is because men are falling back rather then the women gaining.
With 1 in 16 private sector workers being in unions and more than 1 in 3 government workers being in unions, it’s not surprising to see much greater equality in the public sector.


Agree with you on this point, but the overall change in the wage gap still does not account for the preponderance of women in low-wage, dead-end jobs such as home health care and other domestic work. Unionization is coming there, though.


" Swiss unions responded to the harsher economic context by investing more resources into political action, using direct democratic instruments to block neoliberal reforms. "


For a rather curious refutation of Deirdre Fulton’s article, see the National Affairs article entitled The Trouble with Public Sector Unions, by Daniel DiSalvo. It is a quite extensive diatribe in respect of unions. The author engages in extensive cherry-picking, inherent contradictions, specious arguments and easily rebuttable assumptions.

Here’s a brief excerpt:

"Yet as skilled as the unions may be in drawing on taxpayer dollars, many observers argue that their greater influence is felt in the quality of the government services taxpayers receive in return. In his book The Warping of Government Work, Harvard public-policy scholar John Donahue explains how public-employee unions have reduced government efficiency and responsiveness. With poor prospects in the ultra-competitive private sector, government work is increasingly desirable for those with limited skills; at the opposite end of the spectrum, the wage compression imposed by unions and civil-service rules makes government employment less attractive to those whose abilities are in high demand.

Consequently, there is a “brain drain” at the top end of the government work force, as many of the country’s most talented people opt for jobs in the private sector where they can be richly rewarded for their skills (and avoid the intricate work rules, and glacial advancement through big bureaucracies, that are part and parcel of government work)."


Yes, but Taft-Hartly notwithstanding, union penetration remained at about 35 percent of the labor force into the 1970s. The real union declines started with Raygun’s busting of PATCO in the 1980s - along with the closure/offshoring of manufacturing in the late 80s.

Interestingly, Canada has seen almost none these declines in union membership - which is still at 35 to 40 percent in spite of fewer and weaker labor union protection laws (they have nothing like the NLRB), and the same deindustrialization the US experienced. What is different in Canada is that attitudes of both worker and boss are different.

Check out the latest print issue of Jacobin (Subscribe!) for more info.


Why is it that almost no one complains about unions for pro athletes, but they do for us average people?


I call bullshit on that DiSalvo article.

In my field, civil/geotechnical engineering, we in my regulatory agency are far better skilled and trained than the private-sector civil engineers - whose plans for potentially hazardous mine-tailings dam plans we review can be pretty apalling. Engineers working for private sector clients are driven by the need to deliver the fastest and cheapest design at the lowest cost - and are constant pressure to either stay “billable” or do marketing. This leaves private sector engineers with no time to develop their engineering skills. To meet state continuing education requirements to keep their PE licenses, they take totally bogus, fraudulent, mickey mouse online engineering courses.

I’m not making this stuff up.

In the cases where we do encounter competence and expertise in private sector engineers, it is those in firms who primarily do business for government agencies - State DOT’s, municipal transit agencies, the Corps of Engineers, and the like.

And there are numerous other federal agencies where this is also true - Dept of Labor (OSHA MSHA, Wage and hour enforcement), EPA, Interior Dept, FERC, NASA (when they are not funding-starved or reigned in by politics), Corps of Engineers and many others.

Yes, I am a dues-paying union member.


Yeah, and they are Basque, not Spanish.


Hillary’s supporters are laying the groundwork to call bullshit on the Stein voters.
They are out and about claiming that the Russian’s will be hacking the voting process on November 8.
The Republicans are quiet on this topic. Curious.
When Stein receives millions of votes on election day, the Clintonites will claim that the “Russian’s did it” because Stein couldn’t possibly have gotten all those votes on her own.


Agreed. (that’s why I said “a key way” rather than “the main way” or “the only way”).


and both the left and the right have destroyed the collective bargaining clout of the unions with their open-border policies.
One of the most fundamental principles of collective bargaining is clout. And when it comes to clout and a totally unlimited supply of cheap labor … you don’t have any clout and you won’t be getting any anytime soon.
So stop worrying about it.


Bill Clinton’s NAFTA shipped millions of union jobs to non-union, low wage countries.
The Democrats strike a blow for labor again.

Can’t wait to see what Hillary will do to finish the union movement off for good.