US Union Membership Up Substantially In 2008, Study Shows

U.S. unionization levels rose substantially this year, defying a decade-long trend of decline, according to a report by UCLA's Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

Ricardo Torres President & CEO - PSLC


U.S. unionization levels rose substantially this year, defying a decade-long trend of decline, according to a report by UCLA's Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.

"The State of the Unions in 2008: A Profile of Union Membership in Los Angeles, California and the Nation" shows unionization rates nationwide rising half a percentage point over the 2007 level, to 12.6 percent of all U.S. civilian workers in 2008. The rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point between 2006 and 2007. Prior to that, the last time U.S. unionization rates registered an increase was in 1979.

The Union organizing departments are spending more money on organizing then ever and they are more educated on how they pick targets to organize causing some companies take false comfort in the fact that there is less campaign’s reported over the last few years. The reason is that it is very rare for a union to file an election petition with less than 65 to 70 % of signature cards signed; unions have started looking to their existing membership and companies where they represent members to expand their union density within these existing companies, besides when it comes to healthcare, unions have started focusing more on their existing core industries.

Almost every union now has their own healthcare department and is aggressively going after any and all hospitals; in fact the competition has gotten so fierce that the unions have engaged in physical violence against each other.

They are more diverse in their employment of minorities in the organizing department who are bilingual and corporate campaigns are on the upswing.

The Change to Win formation and exit from the AFL/CIO by almost all of their membership has not hurt the union’s ability to organize. Many thought this would be another nail in their coffin but in fact it has enabled them to increase their organizing efforts and become more focused. Raiding each other’s members has increased between competing organizations without the AFL-CIO’s anti-raiding articles to stop them. This is very harmful to companies and healthcare intuitions because of major disruptions in the workplace.

The Steelworkers union has merged with unions in the UK and has now become the largest union in North America, They have vowed to increase organizing around the globe. The Teamsters have also made organizing pacts with the Graphics unions and forged bilateral relations with fellow unions in Germany, South Africa and Australia and are seeking other merges.

Strengthening existing global labor federations, as the umbrella AFL-CIO focused on at a meeting of labor leaders from 63 countries at the National Labor College outside Washington in December.

Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO is seeking to make international labor federations stronger and more flexible so unions can deal with the fast pace of changes in the global economy. The event a few months ago at the National Labor College included leaders of the Council of Global Unions, which consists of 10 global union federations in such sectors as metal, food or public employees.

The other key international labor grouping is the 170-million-member International Trade Union Confederation, composed of national umbrella labor organizations such as the AFL-CIO.

At no time in the past 30 years has a president election been more important for both management and labor organizations than in 2008.

Unions are flexing their collective muscles over what they hope will be the most defining moment for the labor movement in the past 50 years.

Passage of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is another bet the unions are making. They have earmarked millions of dollars to ensure passage of this bill. The AFL-CIO and Change to Win Coalition are working hand in hand to pressure Congress to pass this bill. Barack Obama has announced support of this bill and vows to sign it into law if he is President. The AFL-CIO predicts that union membership will grow by 60 million members in 3 years. They have started a million member support group to pressure congress and threaten them if they don’t support the EFCA.

On the other hand, management is just now starting to get motivated to fight back. I have spoken with management groups across the nation and have been surprised at the lack of knowledge and concern on the part of management teams. The unions can put out a letter, protest or petition to millions of workers at a flick of a button. They have prepared for this day for years.

According to Leo Troy of Rutgers University, labor unions have an upfront cost of 21.5%. How many millions can this cost a company trying to struggle during these uncertain times or in the best of times. Many hospitals and companies operate on a 5% or lest profit margin. This will mean that many companies will have to relocate and many hospitals and long term care facilities might have to close operations. This doesn’t even calculate the operating issues of losing control or direct contact with personal.

Unions are thinking 5 to 10 years ahead. Their job is to disrupt your facility and the relationship you enjoy with your employees/team members. When I was an organizing coordinator we use to say we will win by any means necessary and if we lose the first time we will come back because we only need to win once. Even if you win the election you have a workforce that is angry and separated from each other and management. The time to protect your employees and your financial bottom line is never too soon. Don’t wait till a union is knocking on your door before you start thinking about how to stop it and the consequences unionization brings.