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Survey Finds Deep Shift in the Makeup of Unions (Click Here)

November 11, 2009

A study has found that just one in 10 union members is in manufacturing, while women account for more than 45 percent of the unionized work force.

The study, by the Center for Economic Policy Research, a Washington-based group, found that union membership is far less blue-collar and factory-based than in labor’s heyday, when the United Automobile Workers and the United Steelworkers dominated.

According to the study, “The Changing Face of Labor, 1983-2008,” just 11 percent of union members work in manufacturing, down from nearly 30 percent in the 1980s. Indeed, for the first time since the National Labor Relations Act was passed in 1935, the percentage of factory workers who are in unions, 11.4 percent, has fallen below the percentage of all workers who are in unions — 12.4 percent last year. That is down from 35 percent in the 1950s. The membership of the U.A.W. has fallen to less than 500,000, from 1.5 million in 1979.

Many labor leaders argue that for unions to reverse their long-term decline, labor will need to win passage of federal legislation to make it easier to organize workers. And many labor leaders say that public-sector unions, like those representing teachers and municipal employees, which have grown rapidly in recent decades, should do more to back unionization efforts in the private sector.

The study found that white men represent just 38 percent of all union members and that women will come to represent more than half of all union members during the next decade.

About 48.9 percent of union members are in the public sector, up from 34 percent in 1983. About 61 percent of unionized women are in the public sector, compared to 38 percent for men.

Elizabeth Shuler, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s new secretary treasurer, said she found the study encouraging because of the increased female membership in unions. “It shows that the diversity initiatives we’ve been pushing have made a difference,” she said. “Unions have been pushing hard to open their doors.”

To help reverse the decline of union membership in the private sector, she called for enacting the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would make it easier to unionize. Business groups have denounced the bill, saying it would raise costs and make it harder for companies to make a profit and add more workers.

The study found that 38 percent of union members had a four-year college degree or more, up from 20 percent in 1983. Just under half of female union members (49.4 percent) have at least a four-year degree, compared with 27.7 percent for male union members.

The report, written by John Schmitt and Kris Warner, said that Hispanics represented 12.2 percent of the unionized work force, up from 5.8 percent in 1983. Immigrants represent 12.6 percent of union members, up from 8.4 percent in 1994.

Mr. Schmitt said globalization was making it harder to unionize factory workers because “globalization makes for a much more credible threat to say, ‘We’re going to shut down this plant if you organize.’ ”

He saw a few bright spots for labor, particularly the Pacific states, where there has been moderate union growth.

“And there’s been growth among Latino, Asian and immigrant workers — so there is a little hope for the future,” he said.

Blacks represent 13 percent of the unionized work force, which has remained relatively steady over the last quarter-century. During that time, the unionization rate for blacks has fallen steeply, to 15.5 percent, from 31.7 percent in 1983.

The typical union member is 45 years old, compared with 41 for the typical American worker. The age for both the typical union member and the typical worker is seven years older than a quarter-century ago.

According to the study, the most heavily unionized group was workers age 55 to 64 — 18.4 percent of them were in unions. The least unionized age group was 16- to 24-year-olds (5.7 percent were in unions.)

The percentage of men in unions has dropped sharply, to 14.5 percent in 2008, from 27.7 percent in 1983, while the percentage for women dropped more slowly, to 13 percent last year, from 18 percent in 1983. For the work force over all, the percentage of workers in unions dropped to 12.4 percent last year, from 20.1 percent in 1983.


Posted by Admin on 11/11 at 01:06 PM

A tired story: Business vs. labor (Click Here)

By Steven Pearlstein
Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In the American narrative on global competitiveness, there are two enduring story lines.

In one, unions use their power to strike to win wages, benefits and job protections that are so excessive that companies become uncompetitive and lose market share to imports or nonunion competitors, or are forced out of business. By the time the unions finally face reality and agree to make the necessary concessions, it’s often too late.

In the other story line, incompetent corporate executives who aren’t clever enough to come up with interesting products or efficient ways to make them try to keep their companies competitive by moving production to lower-cost locations overseas, or nonunion regions at home, creating a race to the bottom in which American workers cannot afford to buy the products they make.

Although the world tends to divide itself between people who believe one story line or the other, there is, in fact, a good deal of truth to both of them.

Consider, for example, Ford’s announcement this week that it had finally achieved a profitable quarter after years of red ink and steep losses in market share.

To most of Ford’s unionized auto workers, the results were a signal that after years of layoffs, pay freezes and benefit cuts, the latest concessions negotiated by union leaders were unnecessary. As they saw it, Ford’s sales turnaround confirmed their long-held belief that all that was required to make Ford competitive again was for its overpaid executives to come up with cars that Americans wanted to buy.

The workers are right about the cars, of course, but dead wrong on the issue of Ford’s financial viability. Ford will now be forced to compete at a cost disadvantage not only to foreign producers, but to GM and Chrysler, whose workers accepted steep concessions as part of their government bailouts. Moreover, a big reason Ford has been able to avoid bankruptcy and ride out the recession is that its executives were clever enough to hock the entire company when credit was available and build up a huge cash reserve. Much of that money has now been used to cover operating losses. What remains, however, is a heavy debt load that could easily force Ford into the ditch.


While the UAW leadership has finally acknowledged these competitive realities, much of the rank-and-file remains stuck in a “them-vs.-us” mind-set where the reference point isn’t the customer or the competition but the status quo. For them, what matters most isn’t whether something still makes business sense, but whether it is a “give-back.”

It’s this attitude that helps explain why places such as Detroit and Flint are economic disaster zones. In theory, you’d think that industrial companies planning to expand their U.S. production would flock to a place with good transportation infrastructure, lots of cheap land, plus an unlimited supply of experienced workers desperate for a job. The reality, however is that most companies won’t even consider Detroit out of a fear that a union-worker mentality will doom them as surely as it did the automakers.

That fear was certainly a factor when Rolls-Royce went looking for its first North American location to build and test jet engines for Airbus and Boeing. After considering Georgia and South Carolina, Rolls broke ground last month on a site in southern Virginia, another right-to-work state with great engineering schools, a pleasant quality of life and a low-wage workforce, but one that will need lots of training to meet Roll’s requirements.

A move to break union hold

And last week, Boeing announced that it would open a second manufacturing facility for its new 787 Dreamliner in North Charleston, S.C., the first time it has ever located production of its commercial jets outside of its manufacturing base in Seattle. Boeing made no bones about its desire to break the hold of the powerful machinists’ union. Their eight-week walkout last year cost Boeing more than $3 billion and further delayed deliveries of the first 787s, which were already more than two years behind schedule.

Ironically, most of the 787 delay was caused not by the union but by Boeing’s efforts to work around its labor difficulties by outsourcing much of the production to subcontractors. After several subcontractors proved unable to meet delivery schedules and quality standards, however, Boeing acknowledged its mistake, recorded several billion dollars in cost overruns and began to bring more of that work back in-house.

Boeing’s South Carolina plant will be located at a complex developed by one of those subcontractors, Vought Aircraft, whose problems led Boeing to buy the operation from the Carlyle Group for $1 billion. On the day after announcing the purchase, Boeing launched a successful effort to decertify the machinist’s union at the facility only a year after it had been voted in by workers.

Although Boeing has long wanted to diversify its geographic base, the company went through the motions of giving the machinists’ union and Washington state officials an opportunity to compete to keep the other 787 plant in Seattle. While the union’s final offer included the 10-year no-strike provision that the company had demanded, the union also demanded 3 percent annual wage increases over the next decade, along with a promise not to oppose union organizing efforts and a guarantee of future production work in the Seattle area. With labor costs in Seattle now 30 percent above what they are in places like Charleston, Boeing rejected the offer out of hand.

There is nothing inevitable about Boeing becoming the next General Motors, or Seattle the next Detroit, but those remain real possibilities. It may be comforting for business and labor to cling to their familiar story lines, but we know how these narratives end. The business executives dream of crushing or escaping the unions is no less a fantasy than the workers’ determination to preserve pay and work rules that ignore competitive realities. It’s time for both sides to get real and figure out how to collaborate on a new social contract.

Steven Pearlstein will host a Web discussion today at 11 a.m. at

Posted by Admin on 11/05 at 07:52 AM