Four Reasons for the Decrease in Union Membership

There are several major trends that have contributed and are contributing to the continued decline in labor union membership, and these trends continue to grow in strength. They are as follows:

Global competition and deregulation in traditionally unionized industries. In recent years, the federal government has deregulated heavily unionized industries including the trucking, railroad, and airline industries. Deregulation has brought greater competition in this industries not only domestically but also from abroad. No longer is the U. S. free from global competitive pressures, as many argue it was in the years following World War II. Economic globalization has resulted in large-scale layoffs and growing economic insecurity for workers, particularly in these historically unionized industries. This in turn has limited union efforts to raise their members' wages and benefits. For example, trucking deregulation hit the Teamsters union hard because competition meant that trucking firms could no longer keep their prices high enough to support the Teamsters' wage premiums. The new competitive labor market freed nonunion truckers from the roadblocks they faced in getting jobs. In the seven years since trucking deregulation began in earnest, the share of truckers who belonged to unions fell by more than half, to 28 percent.

Changes in the American economy and workforce demographics. The rising number of illegal immigrant workers who, fearing deportation, are disinclined to protest substandard employment conditions, much less become involved in a union organizing campaign. The rapidly expanding contingent workforcecomposed of mostly women, temporary workers, and part-time employeeshas also proven to be difficult for unions to organize. Additionally, shifts in the American job market from the stagnant manufacturing sector to an expanding service sector and the creation of many new largely white collar and technical occupations have also presented organizing challenges to unions.

Federal employment law supplanting traditional union roles. Over the past several decades, Congress has passed a number of new laws and mandates designed to combat employment discrimination of various types, establish safe and healthy workplaces, provide family and medical leave, give workers notice for plant closings, and much more. The trend has been for government to assume responsibility for more and more of the things traditionally advocated and protected by unions. Unions have thus become less necessary for many workers, and the cultural movement toward legislative protections has to a great extent replaced collective action in the workplace.

Today's workers are less interested in unionization. The declining numbers of union members over the past 20 years has spawned another problem for unions—the current generation of workers comes largely from households where there are no union workers to serve as models. Hence, these younger workers have little knowledge of, and do not particularly care about, unions. More than 70 percent of the current civilian labor force is under the age of 45. Today's workers also tend to be highly mobile, better educated, and often in white-collar or new-collar (computer, technical, etc.) careers. They care about wages, but many care more about such issues as career advancement, day care, quality of life on the job, developing new skills, and having some say in how their jobs are done. Workers of today also tend to be more sympathetic to business. Many came of age during the oil-shocks of the mid-1970s, the back-to-back recessions that followed, and the trade wars. This has led them to appreciate the importance of business in creating jobs and has made them desire unions that are willing to cooperate with management rather than confront it.