The upward blip in US union membership

Labour union leaders might be popping champagne corks over the numbers reported in the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics estimates of labour union membership in 2007.

After all:

  • Labour union membership grew by 311,000.

  • Union members as a share of employed wage and salary workers came in at 12.1 per cent in 2007, up slightly from 12 per cent in 2006.

  • The private sector union membership rate went from 7.4 per cent in 2006 to 7.5 per cent in 2007.

  • Meanwhile, in the public sector, the union membership rate came in at 35.9 per cent, compared to 36.2 per cent in 2006.

    Before union leaders get too carried away, however, it should be noted that tiny year-to-year differences in union membership rates are probably more statistical noise than substantive developments, says Raymond J. Keating, Chief Economist with Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council.

    The long-term trend remains a strikingly grim tale for labour union membership:

  • In 1983, the labour union membership rate stood at 20.1 per cent, compared, again, to 12.1 per cent last year.

  • As for private sector union membership, the 1983 rate of 16.5 per cent has plummeted to 7.5 per cent in 2007.

  • Only public sector union membership has remained relatively steady – at 36.7 per cent in 1983 and 35.9 per cent in 2007.

    The problem with labour unions comes down to their fundamental push for higher compensation for less work. In addition, in unionised workplaces, employees in specific jobs usually get paid the same no matter how productive one individual might be compared to another, says Keating.

    The long-term decline in labour union membership is good news for both businesses and employees. Businesses wind up with a more flexible and productive workforce, while workers have greater ability to excel and be rewarded accordingly, explains Keating.

    Source: Raymond J. Keating, The Upward Blip in Union Membership, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, January 31, 2008.

    For text:

    For more on Unions:

    FMF Policy Bulletin/ 12 February 2008
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