State of the Unions This Labor Day: Losing Battles in the States

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Unions have taken a beating this year from state courts and legislatures. The most notable beat-down came in Wisconsin this summer when the state Supreme Court upheld a law limiting collective bargaining rights for public workers. If collective bargaining is limited by the courts -- meaning unions can't negotiate much more than wages, and not greatly at that -- then workers may not see as much benefit in joining them, which further cuts into their strength.

Act 10 limited bargaining rights to pay raises within the rate of inflation. The law also required workers to contribute more for their health care and pensions, a move that Gov. Scott Walker (R) said was needed to lower the state's budget deficit. It did just that, saving Wisconsin taxpayers more than $3 billion, according to the governor.

It also helped lower public sector union membership in Wisconsin. With workers forced to contribute more money to their health care and pensions, some couldn't afford union dues and dropped out of the union. One public sector union in the state saw membership fall by as much as 60 percent.

How Many Union Members Are Left?

The overall effect of moves like this on union membership hasn't been tallied. The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics is for 2013, and it shows union membership at 11.3 percent, the same as it was in 2012.

There are 14.5 million wage and salary workers who belong to unions, which is little different than in 2012, but a large drop from the 17.7 million union workers and 20.1 percent union membership rate in 1983, the first year the bureau started collecting such data.

Actions in Michigan and Indiana

Some union contracts call for mandatory union membership of non-managerial employees at specific workplaces, which can leave some people paying for representation they don't want. Michigan and Indiana recently passed laws making union membership and dues voluntary. Before the school year began in August in Michigan, about 1 percent of teachers opted out of the union, with more defections expected.

One teacher, for example, said he objected to having his union dues go toward political causes that supported things he found morally objectionable.

A similar law was enacted in Wisconsin in 2011, after which a third of teachers dropped their union memberships in what's called a "right to work" movement.

For workers who are on the fence about joining a union, some courts are giving them another reason not to join by preventing unions from automatically deducting union dues from their paychecks. Wisconsin's state supreme court did this, as did an Illinois court in a case relating to home-based personal care providers.

Right to Work

In the 26 states without those so-called "right to work" laws, workers can lose their jobs for refusing to pay union dues, according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation.

Probably the best news for workers who are in unions is that they still make more money than their non-union counterparts. Among full-time workers, union members had median weekly earnings of $950, compared to $750 for those who weren't in a union, according to the BLS.

And what work do most of these union members do? According to the BLS, the highest membership rate is in the public sector, where 35 percent or workers are in a union. It's only 6.7 percent among private-sector workers. Teachers, police officers and firefighters, among other public employees, are heavily unionized, which might give you a bit of extra confidence in the people you are trusting to educate your child, protect you from criminals, or keep your house from burning to the ground; you'll know they feel adequately compensated for their hard labor on your behalf.

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247 Comments

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truu.liberal

Q)...How come greedymac doesn't get an education so he doesn't have to ask such cartoonishly ignorant questions on DF message boards?

Q)...How come greedymac doesn't get an education so he doesn't have to ask such cartoonishly ignorant questions on DF message boards?

Q)... How come greedymac doesn't get an education so he doesn't have to ask such cartoonishly ignorant questions on DF message boards?

September 02 2014 at 9:56 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Ted Wilson

If we passed a law that all companies selling to the American public must pay a flat 15% tax, would the companies come back to America…Why would they?

September 01 2014 at 11:28 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Big Daddy

Awwwww GEE, Unions screwed up every industry they were ever involved in. Wish they would go to China. Oh No, they would be shot!

September 01 2014 at 9:50 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Iselin007

Park the limo, sell the corporate toys, or watch the consumers fold like lawn chairs.

September 01 2014 at 8:44 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
Iselin007

Not all stores are low cost discount stores. Today there are just too many stores eating each other's lunch. When you removed other types of work and sent those jobs off shore too many occupations were eliminated. Now creating new jobs that aren't available to the losers of the manufacturing jobs for instance means a net lost in jobs and higher incomes. The expansion in medical assistants will fail because the majority of the older people forced out of the workforce are broke! Stuffing the country with more people won't work because you can't even employ the people that you have now!

September 01 2014 at 8:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Iselin007's comment
Animadvert4

There is no "expansion" in Medical Assistants. there has however been an expansion in the number of Schools offering Certificates and Degrees with respect to Medical Assistance training. the majority o those schools are private, for profit, corporations selling instruction.

September 01 2014 at 8:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Iselin007

What's the corporations going to do when they have driven the employees into poverty and there are few people with the money to buy goods? Funny thats just what is happening. As the consumers cuts back the saturation of retail stores and other businesses including Online variations will shut down.

September 01 2014 at 8:02 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
kcampo6453

Unions played an important part in the early years. Now all they do is drive our jobs overseas. If they want to raise salaries and benefits in the US go to China, Thailand, Korea and unionize those guys. I'll try to use small words so you liberals can understand. A business, any business has to make a profit. Some of the profits go to shareholders for investing in the company. Some goes to expanding the business hiring more employees. Now when expenses exceed income prices go up or people lose jobs. Now don't blame the Republicans, this process has been going on for hundreds of years. Even Democrats follow the plan. It may not be perfect in your opinion, but that's the way it is.

September 01 2014 at 8:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to kcampo6453's comment
Iselin007

Greedy business doesn't want to pay for freemen so they go off shore for slave labor.

September 01 2014 at 8:12 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Iselin007

When expenses exceed the bonuses and other rising benefits of corporate then they cut the workforce. The top end is killing America.

September 01 2014 at 8:17 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Iselin007

There are far too many part time and other crap jobs starving the economy so there is no alternative but to shut the doors and cause imports from unfair trader nations to get stuck with their goods. Make the goods in America with American workers so jobs and incomes put America back to work.

September 01 2014 at 7:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Iselin007

The service sector is all ready saturated with competitors and a shortage of floor traffic with decent wages. Few people can live on a low wage in state like NJ. More businesses will have to close. If the taxpayer can't pick up the public assistance costs for retail and restaurant workers then the businesses will have to close.

September 01 2014 at 7:39 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Iselin007

Union jobs usually have higher take home pay after deductions. Because of outsourcing and the displacement of workers by foreign nationals. The middle class blue color workers can't protect their quality of the work place allowing the job market to crumble into decline. There are so many people out of work and the global populations and unfair trade are being used to turn the average work place into a low wage sweatshop with little benefits. The result of this change is destroying America as it destroys the consumer's income. There will be no recovery where ever the good jobs are destroyed.

September 01 2014 at 7:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Iselin007's comment
truu.liberal

What unfair trade?

September 01 2014 at 7:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply