The decline of private sector unions has been going on for some time now. In 2009, for the first time ever, public sector union enrollment was larger than private sector union enrollment. But now, even in traditionally union-friendly areas, the private sector unions are having a tough go of organizing new members as workers see unions as increasingly putting their jobs at risk (emphasis mine):
JOHNSTOWN, Pa.—Unions have continued to struggle to organize workers in the past 12 months, even in industries that they formerly dominated and in regions that are still relative union strongholds, according to new government data.
Here on the site of a former Bethlehem Steel works, in a city where union membership among private-sector workers is 12.7%, almost double the national average, employees of JWF Industries Inc. recently voted 194-38 against joining the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers.
Many of the welders and other workers at JWF Industries are former union members who watched unionized factories in the valley shut or relocate, and say the benefits of being in a union didn’t outweigh the risks. JWF Industries’ chief executive, Bill Polacek, is the son of a lifelong steelworker and union member in the city, but he said his company needs to stay nonunion to compete today.
I’m reminded of a quote from Sameul Gompers, who founded the American Federation of Labor (the “AFL” in the AFL-CIO): “The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit.”
This has always seemed like a pragmatic admission from a man who, judging by his other words and deeds, wasn’t always prone to pragmatism. It conflicts with some of Gomper’s other stances – he also once said “We do want more, and when it becomes more, we shall still want more.” – yet the wisdom of it rings true.
A business that is bankrupted by rich and inflexible labor contracts is a business that can’t employ anyone, union or not. Laws supported by unions which restrict a business’ ability to grow and prosper also mean fewer workers employed.
The unions seem to have forgotten this, but workers it seems are waking up to that reality, which is what I believe explains the decline of unions in America. In the private sector anyway. The public sector, of course, is a much different matter. Government, after all, needn’t worry about profits.