By Larry Sand
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual report on union membership in January, and the results were not pretty for organized labor. There are 50,000 fewer union members in the private sector than in 2020, even though the economy added 4,225,000 new salaried workers. In typical style, the unions pointed fingers elsewhere for their loss of stature. In a press release, the AFL-CIO complained that “American labor laws are unquestionably broken.” Other union acolytes fell over each other with comments along the line of, “Yeah, but wait till next year!”
Looking at the big picture, however, the optimism is not supported by reality. As Mike Antonucci notes, the U.S. economy has added 48.1 million jobs since 1983, but unions have lost 3.7 million workers. Taking an even longer view, private sector union membership stood at 35.7% in 1953, but by 2021 that number had sunk to just 6.1%.
These numbers should not be surprising. Generations ago, unions indeed served a positive function. There were often hazardous working conditions, untenable hours, and low wages. But that’s not the case today. There are many laws on the books that protect workers from abuses, and due to a competitive capitalist system, employers realize that protecting worker health and safety, and paying good wages, especially in a tight labor market, is good business.
In a desperate attempt to stanch organized labor’s bleeding, Rep Bobby Scott (D-VA) introduced H.R. 842 in 2021. The “Protecting the Right to Organize Act,” – popularly known as the PRO Act – would have advanced the cause of unions, but at the expense of workers. One particularly egregious aspect of the bill would have repealed “right-to-work” status in 28 states that have such laws, which give workers the choice as to whether or not they want to join a union. (The PRO Act would have no effect on public sector unions, which the lost the power to collect mandatory fees from workers as a result of the Janus decision in 2018.) The measure would have also brought back “card check” which would make public a worker’s decision on whether or not to authorize a union. Additionally, this abysmal bill would enshrine California’s AB 5 into federal law. So-called “gig workers,” freelancers who enjoy the freedom of being independent contractors, would have to be classified as fulltime employees, and be ladened with a load of unwanted baggage.
Also worth noting, the Institute for the American Worker reports that if the PRO Act became a reality, even under the most conservative estimates, unions could make $20 billion per year in dues and fees – almost double the $11 billion per year the unions already rake in.
While the bill made it through the House, the Senate, with its filibuster rule intact, would not allow passage, so Democrats in the lower chamber are currently trying to rejigger the measure and work some of its darker elements into a reconciliation bill, which Economist Diana Furchtgott-Roth points out deals with taxes and spending, and thus needs only a simple majority. “So via a massive reconciliation bill, congressional Democrats are trying to move some labor union provisions of the PRO Act by arguing they are actually revenue raisers.”
While the unions and their Democratic pals are busy trying to force totalitarian laws on workers, Tim Scott (R-SC) is introducing a bill that puts workers, not unions, first.
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The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Citizens Journal.