1) Are Unions Literally Dying Off?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released its
annual report on union membership and if you squinted really hard, you
could find some good news for labor organizations in it. There were 49,000
additional union members in 2011, and the unionization rate fell only
one-tenth of a percentage point, to 11.8 percent of the total workforce.
Most of us would be hard-pressed to find
a chart that looks like this one...
AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka tried anyway:
Despite an unprecedented volley of partisan political attacks
on workers' rights and the continuing insecurity of our economic crisis,
union membership increased slightly last year. Working men and women want to
come together and to improve their lives.
The AFL-CIO boasted of the 15,000 new
members in the 16-to-24 age group, while failing to notice that number is
down more than 200,000 from just four years ago. The leftist publication
In These Times saw the BLS numbers as a mixed bag, and commented
they "give little hint of the future."
On the contrary, the numbers give us a
rather large hint of the future, and herald a slow, lingering death for
unions of all types without a change in organizing strategy.
The Baby Boomers naturally have
comprised the bulk of the U.S. workforce for many years. As the workforce
has aged, you would expect union membership to age as well. However, an
examination of the last ten years of data reveals that union membership is
aging at an accelerated rate relative to the rest of the workforce.
In 2001, 6.3 percent of union members
were below that age of 25. Last year, only 5 percent were. That's not
encouraging, but the other end of the spectrum is truly alarming.
In 2001, 14 percent of union members
were 55 years of age or older. Last year, 23.3 percent were. Almost half a
million working union members are 65 or older. During the last 10 years, not
only did unions lose more than 1.5 million members, but 1.1 million
additional members entered the 55-and-over age group.
This creates a demographic storm that
unions have not faced in recent memory. Over several decades they have been
unable to increase membership at the same rate as the growing workforce.
Now, even as the overall size of the workforce slows or stalls, they will
find themselves needing to grow at a rate to replace retiring and deceased
The aging union membership would also
seem to be a sign that battles over retirement, health care and seniority
will become more bitter and difficult in the short term, since a growing
segment of the union population sees these as primary issues.
If, however, the focus on the needs and
desires of the older members comes at the expense of younger members, or
potential members, the unions essentially may retire themselves out of
2) Last Week's Intercepts.
Intercepts, covered these topics from January 24-30:
Diane Ravitch's Fairy Tale Journey Through the Gumdrop Land of California.
No one ever went broke telling people exactly what they want to hear.
California Teachers Association Backs Brown Over Sister Union. Will a
coalition of the untaxed unite around a single tax hike initiative?
Twinkie the Kid Wins School Showdown. "He should have armed himself."
Small Potatoes. Is it bad for unions in Idaho or not?
Crabby. Held back by The Man.
Quote of the Week #1.
"If I'm a parent in poverty I have no clue because I'm trying to struggle
and live day to day. The idea of parents making decisions simply based on
choice is the abandonment of public schools." - Michael Walker Jones,
executive director of the Louisiana Association of Educators, commenting on
Gov. Bobby Jindal's plan to expand school vouchers in the state. (January 23
New Orleans Times-Picayune)
Quote of the Week #2. "To me that is incredibly offensive and exactly
what is wrong with the top-down approach." - Gov. Jindal, responding to
Jones' comments. (January 24
New Orleans Times-Picayune)