Labor union membership in the United States has declined since a landmark 2018 Supreme Court ruling took away organized labor’s power to force public-sector employees to pay fees even when they refused to join the union, according to a new report.
The data were included in The State of the Unions 2020, a report by researchers from the left-leaning Illinois Economic Policy Institute, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and the University of California, Irvine.
Current trends and economic conditions make it increasingly difficult for organized labor to add to its shrinking ranks. Globalization, the gig economy, contract work, and the switch during the current pandemic to remote work make recruitment an uphill climb, the report said.
The report said the losses could be attributed in large measure to a landmark Supreme Court ruling from 2018, Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), which restored the First Amendment rights of government employees and hindered union recruitment. Janus, which overturned Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), held that public workers have a constitutionally protected right to refuse to join or subsidize a labor union.
Report co-author Robert Bruno, a labor studies professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, played down the falling union membership figures.
“The damage that’s been done has not eviscerated labor,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It has not prevented unions from organizing in new places. It has not brought labor to its knees,” Bruno said.
Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, argued that unions are authors of their own misfortune.
Union membership has been dropping because “so-called union leadership has been losing sight of what their jobs and what their responsibilities are,” Mix told The Epoch Times in an interview.
“They are so interested in playing politics that they’ve completely lost sight of what their primary mission is, and that is advocating for workers in their workplaces. So the fact that they’re losing members is not a surprise. When you lose sight of what you’re supposed to be doing and the services you’re supposed to be providing to workers—in the private sector that’s exactly what happens to a business that does that kind of thing.”
“The Janus decision wasn’t designed to wipe out unions,” he said.
It gave workers “the right to vote with their pocketbooks,” and some union members “have done that because they didn’t believe they were getting any benefit or service from the unions.”
“If what Janus has done in their mind is convince them [i.e. unions] that they need to go out and talk to workers again, then, mission accomplished.”
Labor unions currently have 14.6 million members nationwide, or 10.3 percent of all workers, the report states, citing government figures. That compares with 14.8 million and 10.7 percent in 2017, the year before the Janus decision.
The drop in membership rolls has disproportionately involved blacks and women, the report said. Those workers considered “essential” during the ongoing pandemic are more likely to be unionized than other workers.
Union membership had already been dropping for more than a generation.
In 1980, 23 percent of American workers belonged to labor unions, according to the report. Today only 10.3 percent are unionized. This drop is largely related to right-to-work laws such as those enacted in five states over the past decade. In the same period, other states enacted laws curbing public-sector collective bargaining.
A right-to-work law “guarantees that no person can be compelled, as a condition of employment, to join or not to join, nor to pay dues to a labor union,” according to the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act provides that states may enact such laws.
The 27 states that have enacted right-to-work laws are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.