By: Tim Lee, Senior Vice President of Legal and Public Affairs at the Center for Individual Freedom
In the abstract, labor unions would appear to be enjoying a resurgence in public approval.
In the realm of reality, however, not so much.
Superficially, a recent Gallup survey reveals that Americans’ approval of unions stands at 68%, the highest level since 71% in 1965. For proper perspective, however, it must be noted that approval levels have generally remained within a fairly narrow 55% to 70% window throughout the decades, so 68% isn’t extraordinarily salient.
Regardless, at the ground level the U.S. Labor Department announced just last month that actual union membership continued its long-term decline in 2021, with private-sector union membership falling to a historic low of 6.1%:
In 2021, the number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions continued to decline (-241,000) to 14.0 million, and the percent who were members of unions – the union membership rate – was 10.3 percent, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The rate is down from 10.8 percent in 2020 – when the rate increased due to a disproportionately large decline in the total number of nonunion workers compared with the decline in the number of union members. The 2021 unionization rate is the same as the 2019 rate of 10.3 percent. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers… The union membership rate of public-sector workers (33.9 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than the rate of private-sector workers (6.1 percent).
Accordingly, conceptual positivity toward unions contrasts sharply with what Americans prefer in practice.
Americans’ theoretical tolerance of labor unions likely reflects nostalgia for a bygone era, a retrospectively idealized vision of assembly-line workers in an “Ozzie and Harriet” world. People’s overwhelming aversion toward unionization in their actual lives, however, reflects a sober familiarity with its consequences in practice.
Too often, union leaders betray their rank-and-file members by awarding themselves big salaries and lavish lifestyles subsidized by union dues extracted from workers’ paychecks. Additionally, union leaders donate enormous sums to far-left political candidates whose views rarely reflect the preferences of ground-level members. Union leaders also employ destructive collective bargaining tactics against the employers who pay their members’ wages, often resulting in lose-lose acrimony, impasses and costly and disruptive work stoppages.
It’s therefore no mystery why union membership continues to decline, as union leadership engages in self-enrichment and hostile negotiating practices that ultimately harm workers more than help them.
Declining union membership also reflects an evolving U.S. economy in which millions of workers opt for gig work and flexible employment apps like Instawork, Uber, Lyft, DoorDash and others. Today, workers often prefer that flexibility, convenience, compensation and self-determination to the sclerotic, one-size-fits-all sorts of working conditions imposed by unionized workforces.
It’s also notable that the unionization rate of government workers is over five times the private-sector rate, as public-sector workers rarely lose their jobs even when their employment becomes economically irrational and unsustainable. Just raise taxes or run higher deficits, which private employers obviously can’t do. No wonder government workers welcome unionization.
Despite those realities, the Biden Administration acts as if it’s still 1950, and seeks to leverage unions’ façade of popularity to justify a destructive labor agenda that will benefit labor leaders at the expense of everyday workers and the U.S. economy.
This week, the White House issued a report recommending dozens of labor law actions that regurgitate much of its failed “Build Back Better” agenda, and which would radically reshape the nature of employment to the detriment of the U.S. economy and American workers.
For example, the Biden report advocates implementation of the provisions of the so-called Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, including what’s known as the “Joint Employer Doctrine.” That doctrine would begin making multiple businesses legally liable for the same employee, including businesses with no direct control over the hiring, firing, terms or conditions of employment. Among other consequences, that would impact hundreds of thousands of franchise businesses throughout the U.S., as well as the millions of workers they employ.
It’s unfair to apply exacting labor law mandates upon multiple businesses that play no role in hiring, firing, determining wages or supervising workers, and these proposals would instantly jeopardize businesses and jobs across our economy.
But that’s apparently a small price to pay to a Biden Administration desperate to placate its Big Labor benefactors and far-left politicians dependent upon union campaign contributions.
We mustn’t allow the Biden Administration to impose through executive fiat an outdated dinosaur employment model that American workers continue to abandon, and which will only further punish businesses and workers alike.