(Mint Press) – Union membership is at a 100-year low, according to a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With just 11.3 percent of the workforce represented by unions, the reports illustrates the strength of anti-labor legislation, including “right to work” laws limiting collective bargaining power in 24 states.
Historically, union members have secured important rights for all American workers, including the 40-hour work week, overtime pay, workplace safety regulations and a minimum wage. The rollback of unions represents a serious challenge to these hard fought gains by the labor movement.
The significant decline is alarming given the rapid shift toward part-time work or temporary employment with low pay and few benefits. This trend is occurring amidst growing support for unions, especially among those currently working in non-union positions.
As Michael Paarlberg, a contributor for the Guardian writes, “a majority of non-union workers would choose to join a union, given the opportunity.”
Michigan became the latest state to pass right to work laws, a widely unpopular measure in a state with 700,000 unionized workers, mostly in the auto industry. With the passage of The Workplace Fairness and Equality Act last month, Michigan becomes the 24th “right to work” state, continuing a trend of union busting that will undermine the strength of the United Auto Workers and other major unions in the state.
The best years of the labor movement occurred shortly after World War II, when the U.S. enjoyed a surge in its manufacturing economy. However the heyday of unions, when upwards of 30 percent of workers were unionized, was short lived.
A turning point occurred in 1981 when President Ronald Reagan fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers in 1981, one of the biggest blows to organized labor in the past 35 years. While many from the business community have embraced Reagan’s harsh economic policies, there remains a strong case for unionization, particularly in the private sector.
Unions play a crucial role in helping all workers raise the minimum wage through living wage advocacy campaigns. According to the National Housing Coalition, it is impossible for a minimum wage worker to earn enough to afford rent for a two bedroom apartment based on fair market prices.
Additionally, surveys show that most workers, both union and nonunion, believe that they would like to have a greater say in workplace conditions and how companies are run.