This morning, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported (Union Membership News Release) that the percentage of U.S. wage and salary workers who were members of unions fell from 11.8% in 2011 to 11.3% in 2012. The total is substantially boosted by public sector workers (who are under heavy attack)—over a third of such workers, 35.9%, are union members (down from 37.0% in 2011), compared with just 6.6% of the private sector (down from 6.9%). In general, the younger the worker, the less likely he or she is to be represented by a union. But being a union member really matters: organized workers earn on average 21% more than nonunion ones (though the comparison is complicated by sectoral and demographic issues).
The share of private sector workers represented by unions is now at a record low since good stats began in 1929. Then, according to Barry Hirsch’s data, 12.4% of private sector workers were unionized in that fateful year, nearly twice as many as were last year. (Hirsch’s spreadsheet is on this data-rich site, featuring his and David Macpherson’s historical work.) Here’s a graph showing the decline (it begins in 1930 so the decade markers are nice round numbers).
At recent rates of decline, private sector union membership won’t hit 0 until around 2201, but unions are on the verge of becoming an insignificant political and economic force, if they aren’t there already. This is very bad news to anyone who wants better politics and a more just economy. How to reverse this decline is a long conversation, but it would be good if some members of the labor establishment would act as if their movement is in crisis.
Not Sean McGarvey, head of the AFL-CIO’s building trades department, however. As it happens, just hours after the BLS released this grim data, McGarvey tweeted this recommendation that construction unions abandon their practice of exhibiting an inflatable rat at nonunion sites:
Meeting with our Presidents and state councils. Issued a call to retire the inflatable rat. It does not reflect our new value proposition.
— Sean McGarvey (@BCTDPrez) January 23, 2013
“Our new value proposition”! As Mike Elk reported, members were not consulted. This too is apparently part of the new value proposition.
Here’s a memory of Scabby, if he is indeed about to disappear.