A new report by Center for Economics and Policy Research (CEPR) has concluded that union membership in the United States is at an all-time low because of the “broad national political environment” and not, as some have theorized, because of globalization and technological changes.
One reason that so many American workers are vulnerable to bullying, harassment, and unfair termination is the low rate of unionization in the United States.
There is no law in the United States against workplace bullying and non-unionized workers are the mercy of a judicially created rule of law called the Employment at Will rule, which means they can be fired for any reason – even a bad one – as long as it does not violate a collective bargaining agreement, the law, or a recognized public policy.
Whatever one thinks of unions, there can be no denying that unions mean clout for workers. Unions represent workers at the bargaining table, and they defend workers in grievance proceedings. Unions historically have led the way toward improving working conditions for all workers.
“In half of the rich countries we studied, the share of the workforce covered by a collective bargaining agreement has remained constant or even increased since 1980 –despite being exposed to the same kinds of pressures from globalization and technology that we experienced here in the United States,” said John Schmitt, a senior economist for the CEPR in Washington, D.C.
In a, 11/17/11 report entitled Politics Matter: Changes in Unionization Rates in Rich Countries, 1960-2010, Schmitt and co-author Alexandra Mitukiewicz review unionization data covering the last five decades for 21 rich economies.
The report demonstrates that national politics are a major determinant of national unionization rates in recent decades, more important than globalization and the new economy.
The researchers found that countries typically identified with social democratic parties – Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Finland – generally saw small increases in union coverage and only small decreases in union membership since 1980. Countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, and other liberal market economies with less protective labor-market systems have generally experienced sharp drops in union coverage and membership. Countries referred to as continental market economies, including Germany and France, saw small drops in union coverage and moderate declines in union membership.
Of course, this probably comes as no surprise to public sector workers who are fighting to retain union bargaining rights, or to unions battling to keep American companies from relocating overseas or to states that are hostile to unions.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the union membership rate in the United States -the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union–was 11.9 percent in 2010, down from 12.3 percent a year earlier. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 612,000 to 14.7 million. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 per- cent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.