Both Private- and Government-Sector Unions Lose Members

MIDLAND — The decline in union membership — dramatized by the 10 percent drop in nationwide UAW membership last year — is not merely a one-year phenomenon, but rather part of a long-term trend in which unions have steadily lost the confidence of workers in Michigan and across the country, according to Robert P. Hunter, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

According to U.S. Census data, 16.4 million U.S. workers were unionized in 1992. That number had declined to approximately 16 million by 2002, in spite of the creation of 16.3 million new jobs during the same period. Michigan unions were no exception to this trend, seeing their membership rolls decline from approximately 972,200 to 896,500 between 1992 and 2002. Yet, overall employment in Michigan had been on the increase, from 3.8 million to 4.2 million, during the same period.

Union losses were particularly dramatic in the manufacturing sector. Between 1992 and 2002 union membership among manufacturing workers declined from 353,000 to 260,500 in Michigan. Among private-sector Michigan workers union membership declined from 626,100 to 571,700, and among government employees, including teachers, from 346,100 to 324,800 between 1992 and 2002.

“This is clearly not just a blip,” said Hunter. “This is a long-term trend that can be tracked all the way back to the 1970s. And this cannot all be blamed on a slow economy, because the base year, 1992, was a poor year for employment overall as well,” he said.

According to Hunter, the union movement itself must change the way it does business in order to restore trust and regain membership. “Union officials remain steadfastly opposed to new financial reporting requirements in spite of a string of embarrassing revelations of fraud in the union movement.”

“Setting a new standard for financial openness would increase trust in union leadership, making it easier to persuade workers to join,” Hunter said. Hunter also recommends that unions resist class-warfare rhetoric and political stances. “The goal should be winning back the hearts, minds, and loyalties of workers, not dividing workers and destroying the businesses that employ them,” he said.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Michigan. The Center operates a web site devoted to Michigan labor issues and other topics, at www.mackinac.org. Labor-related legislative activity can be monitored at www.michiganvotes.org.

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