NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Organized Labor Faces Its Decline

October 14, 1999

The AFL-CIO is pondering a study it commissioned that shows unions are losing strength not only in key industry sectors, but in the most vital regions of the country.

In short, job growth is fastest in industries were unions are weakest, while job losses are greatest in sectors where unions are strongest. Moreover, the fastest-growing U.S. metropolitan areas tend to have the lowest percentage of workers in unions, while the slowest growing areas tend to have the highest concentration of union workers.

  • Between 1984 and 1997, the 30 fastest growing sectors of the economy -- including hotels, child-care, finance, retail trade and airlines -- added 26 million new jobs, but only one out of 20 workers in those sectors became a union member.
  • In industries with the greatest job losses -- such as autos and steel -- four-fifths of the 2.1 million jobs lost belonged to members.
  • Economically vibrant cities such as Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Miami and Phoenix tend to have the lowest percentage of workers in unions.
  • Meanwhile, slow-growing cities like Chicago and New York -- which has 13 percent of the nation's union members -- tend to have the highest percentage of unionized workers.

The proportion of workers in unions has plunged to 13.9 percent today from 35 percent four decades ago.

Economists point out that unions often have only themselves to blame for dwindling membership numbers. Too frequently, absurd wage demands and confrontations with management have convinced businesses to pack up and move their operations out of the country.

That is not a concern of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees, which is seeking to organize laundry workers. "It's a major growth industry," one of its officials recently observed, "and it can't move offshore."

Source: Steven Greenhouse, "Union Leaders See Grim News in Labor Study," New York Times, October 13, 1999.


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