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Big Labor Can’t Quit Shrinking

Snitz's additional chart below. The drop in union membership looks even more striking when you go back to 1960. A few factors will make union involvement unnecessary for workers to gain wage traction.

1. During the past 13 years, China has created 230 million new service and factory workers compared to 60 million for the EU and US combined. Ergo dumping labor on the global market has pushed wages down. China's current demographic nightmare means they won't continue adding labor, plus wage rates in China are up 8 times.

2. The labor participation rate in the US keeps dropping.

3. We now have the lowest unemployment in decades.

These three factors will continue to retard any potential growth in union membership.

Big Labor Can’t Quit Shrinking

Unionized workers fall to 10.1% of the U.S. workforce, despite political help.

By The Editorial BoardFollow

Jan. 31, 2023 6:45 pm ET

Airport Workers United and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members hold a rally outside the Capitol Building on Dec. 8, 2022.


Union members made up only 10.1% of the workforce last year, down from 10.3% in 2021, according to data released recently by the Labor Department. For a long time the prototypical union shop hasn’t been a private steel plant but a public school, yet the unionized share of government employees also fell.

Though the annual changes look small, they add up: The workforce in 2012 was 11.3% unionized, and in 2002 it was 13.3%. Organized labor hasn’t been able to stop the trend, despite frantic unionization drives, including many aimed at nontraditional members, such as the university graduate students who march under the United Auto Workers banner. Private workers are 6% unionized, down from 8.6% two decades ago. For public workers, it’s 33.1%, down from 37.3%.

Some of this has to do with improvements in public policy. More states have passed right-to-work laws, guaranteeing their residents the ability to choose freely whether to belong to unions. The Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. Afscme said that public workers who opt out can’t be billed union fees anyway. This has reduced the incentive for reluctant workers to go along and get along, since real money from their paychecks is on the line.

America’s 7,821 charter schools educated 3.7 million students in 2020-21. That’s 7.5% of public-school enrollment, up from 0.9% two decades earlier, according to data from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. About a tenth of charter schools are unionized. But most can ignore the kinds of seniority rules and grievance procedures that bind traditional government schools, and that’s a key to their appeal and educational success.


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Democrats, including famed teachers union spouse Joe Biden, would love to reverse these trends. Michigan’s new legislative leaders will probably fight with picks and shovels to repeal the state’s right-to-work law, which took effect in 2013. Mr. Biden also wants federal legislation, the PRO Act, to tilt the negotiating table so that everything rolls in the union direction. The Biden National Labor Relations Board is pulling every lever it can to make it easier for unions to organize new groups of workers.

What do the 89.9% of nonunion workers make of this political favoritism to the 10.1%? Good question. Unions spent more than $250 million in the 2022 elections, mostly on behalf of Democrats, per Open Secrets, and their organizing muscle is still considerable.

But based on their membership numbers, unions aren’t offering a deal that workers want to sign up for. Unions need to rely on government coercion because they can’t persuade enough workers to sign up voluntarily.

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