Unions Having A Hard Time Organizing Members In Traditionally Union-Friendly Areas

union_yes

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.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

Related posts

  • Robert Portly

    Strong unions are needed to overcome the take over by the one percent. The richest one percent of the population now gets 20% of the income. This is what happens when unions are driven under by right wing corporations. When unions were strong, the middle class was strong. Does that tell you anything? Nope, you are a right wing dinger who thinks companies always wanted to pay you well. You never studied history, and most of you education was via Fox and Rush. So if you want to stay in the bubble Rob would be glad to have you. Evil unions, sounds like socialist to me. When people ask for a fair shake we know it is communism. Unless of course it is the rich asking for more tax breaks. Right Rob?

    • yy4u2

      Yeah, it tells me the economy was probably better and the companies could still make some money despite being unionized. I’d try to explain it more, but the other thing your post, as well as the plethora of other drivel and rancor that you spew, tells me is that you are still ignorant.

      • AV

        You, like Rob & co, may have missed a key point.

        Unionization tends to increase wages, which gives workers more money to spend within the economy, which leads to higher demand, therefore growth. (I’m skipping over many technical issues …)

        But, if one business were to unionize, and its competitors didn’t, then that single business may be at an increased risk of going bankrupt.

        It’s not that unions are inherently bad, but that, especially in a more globalized economy, this comparative (dis)advantage has much more of an effect.

        “… economy was probably better …” — yy4u2

        Due to some magical “economy fairy,” or perhaps because unions were a factor leading to a stronger middle-class?

        • Chad Geist

          “Unionization tends to increase wages, which gives workers more money to
          spend within the economy, which leads to higher demand, therefore
          growth.”

          You forgot that increasing the wages also increases the cost of production, which then raises the costs of the goods produced, which means lower demand for those products, which means lower production, which means lower need for workers.

          • mikemc1970

            That’s the part these socialist never understand. In their mind that’s where government comes in, and subsidizes production costs, they demand more wages and benefits and that the government subsidize them even more, then it all escalates out of control until collapse.

            It’s like a dog that chases its own tail. You can tell him he’s going to get dizzy and fall over, but he won’t understand and will just do it anyway, nor will the first experience keep him from repeating the procedure in the future.

          • AV

            Seeing your posts on economic issues is hilarious, you are so far out of your depth, yet incapable of realizing it. Thanks for the laughs!

          • mikemc1970

            Glad you enjoyed it. Now keep following your tail, one day you’ll get it.

          • AV

            I’m not so sure, since I don’t have a tail. Maybe you could show me how it’s done, and post it to YouTube?

          • mikemc1970

            That’s right, it’s not your own tail you’re chasing it’s belongs to someone else. That’s what all good dogs/socialists think. Just keep spinning and you’ll get there.

          • robert108

            As usual, you have only snark, with no facts at all.

          • AV

            I didn’t “forget,” I simply considered the macroeconomic scenario that matches reality.

          • Chad Geist

            Are you trying to say that raising the cost of labor does not raise the cost of the goods produced by that labor? If so, you might want to apologize to all of your math teachers.

          • AV

            Ok then, consider the reverse. What happens if the cost of labor goes way down, who’s gonna buy all the stuff produced? China gets away with this by selling most of the stuff they make to us.

            Now, back to your question. Consider building a car. The labour-cost may be 10% of the final price (because making cars is a capital-intensive industry). Even if wages double, the total cost of the car won’t. See how there is a net gain in purchasing-power for the worker?

            P.S. There is no such thing as a free lunch, the above scenario is not realistic, e.g. inflation was not considered, so such a simplistic analysis is only to show that wages can increase faster than costs of commodities, giving a net increase in demand.

          • Wayne

            “The labour-cost may be 10% of the final price (because making cars is a capital-intensive industry).” Prove it.

          • AV

            http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-500395_162-4677571.html

            “Even the roar from Congressional critics about assembly line largesse seemed to miss the fact that (according to the UAW) labor costs account for about 10 percent of the cost of producing a vehicle; the remaining 90 percent includes research and development, parts, advertising, marketing and management overhead.”

          • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

            I’m not sure the UAW is an unbiased source for this. And is this counting pensions, including unfunded liabilities?

            I’m guessing no.

          • AV

            I wouldn’t call the UAW unbiased either, but do you have any figures that labor is significantly more than 10% of the cost? And why would labor-costs be more significant than this, anyway? Building autos is very capital-intensive, with a lot of automation.

            Why is it that progressives have to be the ones to explain how the economy works, and to market-fundies?

            P.S. And yes, the 10% includes the full labor costs, working out at around $70/hour, all up.

          • robert108

            The reality of economics takes place at the micro level, with individual transactions. So called “macroeconomics” is just political science in disguise.

          • AV

            In physics, we have “continuum mechanics,” where we study systems of solids and fluids; i.e., at the macroscopic level. We all know that this is an idealization, but it is the only realistic way to study large systems, and it is also accurate since microscopic (quantum) phenomena are not typically observable at these scales.

            Similarly in economics: when two parties perform a trade, microeconomic theory is used. When 300 million people trade, the analysis is then macroeconomic.

        • yy4u2

          I see Chad tackled some of your thoughts so won’t go over that twice.
          The economy fairy…how about a product or service that the unionized company offered at what they thought was a fair price and some other non-unionized company figured out how to produce it better and cheaper; perhaps even global companies. Not sure of a business model that works by pricing itself out of the market. Also not sure of a company besides one that gets govt bailouts where they are allowed to pay wages with benefit packages that exceed what the free market will tolerate.
          If unions make such a strong middle-class, why isn’t every 3rd world country pushing for them? Or are they? How are their economies?
          The markets need less Keynesian thought and ‘price ourselves out of a job’ unions.

          • AV

            I already explained the differences between a single business unionizing, vs. a whole sector of the economy. The key term, “comparative advantage.”

            Are there really no conservatives that know anything about economics? I guess that knowledge of economics (or anything) tends to make one a progressive…

          • yy4u2

            I get what you are saying. I’m not jumping up and down with excitement because all it leads to is this… I could care less if a company is unionized; however, it they put themselves at a disadvantage and out of business it will lead to their failure where the smarter company picks up their pieces cheaper and expands their own business.
            So tell me oh wise sage, should we keep them at a comparative advantage through subsidies, price controls, and wage controls? Or should we let the free market decide what is needed, how much and at what price?
            I’d mention that you might be progressive but you’ve mistakenly made the assumption that they have knowledge of economics (or anything) for that matter. Looky there…you are a progressive.

          • AV

            “… should we keep them at a comparative advantage through subsidies, price controls, and wage controls?” — yy4u2

            In general, I don’t think so, but in specific cases, maybe. Some countries offer lower tax-rates to businesses in industrial sectors that it wants to develop. It’s been worked out ok for some of them…

            P.S. True, there are plenty of dip-shit progressives (like Al Gore).

          • Random Passerby

            You overlook a main element in making your point. The whole structure(internal political, economic, and social) of unions really isn’t an issue. There was (and to a point I shall conceed) and is a need for unions. Others have pointed out the economic consequences of modern unions. You may dispute that – your right, but you cannot disupte the economic cost of unions. They make more money yes, but they also drive up costs. Others have pointed out the thriving US steel industry. Not much more need be said there.
            The element you are missing is that there is no control on unions. There are massive controls on business (Management). With the formation of mega unions, the main control on unions (the health of the company) has failed. There is no local awareness. if thje mega-union does not agree with small podunk company’s offer, there is a strike. Ok, that is a union right. Small podunk now goes out of business because no production = no cash flow. no cash flow = no job. no job = no union dues. no union dues from small podunk copmany = no problem for mega union.
            When was the last time you saw a union actively work to save their company? (hint: ain’t happened)
            When was the last time you saw a company save their union? (hint: GM)
            Until there is some control on unions, they can only be considered a cancer ( a cancer is an uncontrolled growth, and that describes union power/wage grabs – like government, it can only increase, never decrease)
            Unions have morphed into controlling organizations that have anything but the workers in mind, only their own power.

          • robert108

            All true, with the additional growth due to the circle of corruption with the Democrat Party, where the unionists elect Democrats who will give them everything they want, and they use the additional money to elect more Democrats, and so forth, and so on…

          • Wayne

            Which is why public service unions should be outlawed.

          • AV

            I agree with many of your points, and to deal with some of them, other countries have opened up unions themselves to market-forces, to a degree. People can shop around for a union.

            IANAL, but it seems that US union laws don’t allow this, and I think that unionization is per-workplace. Bad unions don’t necessarily imply that unions are bad.

          • Random Passerby

            you say ” People can shop around for a union”
            yes, yes they can….once. There is a joke about democratically elected dictators…one vote…one time. Choose wisely.
            What are the odds your shopped around for union is not a part of a mega union? (hint: I will win 4 consecutive mega lotters in a month first..what are the odds)
            you say “Bad unions don’t necessarily imply that unions are bad.”
            Until/unless there are counterveiling examples…yes it does. 1 bad egg in a carton will cost the entire carton. 9 bad eggs in a carton will cost the grocery. 12 bad eggs and it costs everyone upline up to (and including) the chicken – which will be invited to dinner)
            On your remark about opening unions to market forces…one of the things that has always bothered me about unions is that if the unions go on strike (“quit”) you cannot fire the union and hire a different one. Unless you cease business operations (go out of business) you are stuck with that union forever. The unions know that and act like a parasite or a cancer.

          • AV

            In other countries, workers fight and die for the right to form unions.

            And from what personal experiences I’ve had with unions, I don’t see a problem with them in general. But I don’t doubt that maybe the union laws need to be changed to reflect the 21st century?

          • Wayne

            “The element you are missing is that there is no control on unions.” which is why public service unions should be outlawed.

          • AV

            You’re not a fan of freedom of association are you? Too bad, maybe you should move to Colombia. They have a human-rights record that might be your thing.

          • robert108

            There might be an excuse for unions with special privileges enforced by govt if the union is limited to a single business, and the business owner then negotiates with only his own employees, but that’s not the reality. Unions now perform the function of the big corporations that you left wingers imagine. Unions bully single employers and fix the price and supply of labor at higher than market values.

          • Wayne

            You’re a much bigger idiot then you know.

          • Wayne

            AV is the same idiot that thinks Benghazi was not Obama fault. Real deep thinker.

          • AV

            You’re the idiot that thinks it is. Let me guess, in your version, Obama flew over to Libya and attacked the embassy?

            Thinking simply isn’t something that you do.

          • Wayne

            It was Obama that bombed Gaddafi out of Libya and cleared the path for the terrorists that kill our people. It was Obama that denied repeated requests for more security in Benghazi before the attack. It was Obama that denied repeated requests for help during the attack. Obama has the blood of those four Americans on his hands. Idiot.

          • AV

            Now you’re an apologist for murderous dictators.

            Also, do you think that Obama has magical powers, and can micro-manage the security of the hundreds of embassies throughout the world? All while performing every other presidential task?

            And then, you call me an idiot?

    • Random Passerby

      You are aware that under feudal times, the nobility(far less than 1%) controlled 99% of all the money all the time right?
      Under your views (well, I will be generous and say current Democrat views) that government control everything is merely a variation of feudalism.The only difference I see is the substitution of Nobles/Aristocrats with ivory tower intellectuals. The constant calls for the government (King) to solve all the problems is particularly telling.
      I question your knowledge of history on that basis alone. The quality of the rest of your education lies with the models your betters have built for you.

      Add in your statement on “When people ask for a fair shake we know it is communism” is..limiting, and most readers here know it. A fair shake does NOT mean equality of OUTCOME, it means equality of opportunity. The rest lies with individual ability. Communisim does gurantee equality of outcome regardless of ability.
      Free men are not equal, equal men are not free. Since that is a positive statement I dare you to disprove it under any circumstance outside of true insectile communistic conditions.

      • robert108

        Absolutely good analysis. At it’s core, Marxism is simply monarchism with either the intelligentsia or the politicians as the nobility.

    • robert108

      “The richest one percent of the population now gets 20% of the income.”
      Even if your number is right, compensation in this country is according to achievement, not dictated by the ruling elite, as you left wingers want.
      Eliminate the collective bargaining privilege, break up the circle of corruption with the Democrat Party, and let us all have a fair shot.

    • Chad Geist

      “The richest one percent of the population now gets 20% of the income.”

      Why don’t you also mention that they also pay 36%+ of the income tax? Oh yeah, that is an inconvenient truth for your blather.

  • mikemc1970

    Unions destroy America. Detroit used to be the wealthiest city in America. Now look at it. It is an urban waste land where building after building sit empty and are only used to cook meth. Where school children only have a 25% chance at graduating. Detroit is the crown jewel of progressivism. The model city they hope to turn Chicago and the rest of the US cities into.

    • AV

      And how did the unions do this, genius?

      • mikemc1970

        Socialism.

        • Mildred Midlefinch

          The magic socailism. Somehow the Canadian economy is doing just fine with way more socialism, and so is Germany. How come? Facts just don’t matter to the Fox Fans.

          • Albert Lickenspittle

            You’re living in the wrong country.

          • mikemc1970

            Because they feed off of US. Who do we feed from, China? How’s that working out so far?

      • robert108

        By having the special privilege of collective bargaining given to them exclusively by the Sherman AntiTrust Act of 1890. No other Americans can bargain collectively, and a national union has much more power than any single business. Together with their circle of corruption with the Democrat Party, the unionists have voted themselves budget-busting pay, benefits and pensions, to the detriment of our economy.
        Unions exist to fix the price and supply of labor at higher than market values.

        • AV

          You still seem not to understand what an “economy” is.

          How is more money, in the hands of those that spend it, a bad thing?

          • robert108

            Because they take that money in excess of what they contribute, and they take that money from others by nefarious and dishonest means.
            It is you who are ignorant of economics; it’s the creation of value, not just passing money around. The money has to represent value created. I know you Marxists think the quantity of value is fixed, but that is just one of the many things you get wrong.

          • AV

            Why do you persist in repeatedly calling people Marxists, when they are much less Marxist than yourself?

          • robert108

            I’m not Marxist at all, liar, and you constantly spew from the Marxist point of view, and display total ignorance of how markets really work.

          • AV

            Marx presented an ideology that he claimed was “the end of history.”

            You have far more of that absolutist zeal than I ever will.

    • Albert Lickenspittle

      Naturally like a good right wing dinger you don’t mention that when Detroit was doing well the CEO of the big auto companies only got 47 times what a line worker did. Now the greedy bastard get 350 times what a union member gets. Of course we all know that greedy executives are just fine in the magic world of Republicans, but if a working person wants a decent wage he is a “socialist”. You right wing dingers are so phony. You might note Germany, and Japan our two big car competitors do not pay their CEO’s greed money. You may also address the issue of quality. However, for the purposes of driving working people into the ground your story is just fine.

      • mikemc1970

        Naturally like a good useful idiot you don’t mention that because the unions took more than they contributed it became impossible to build cars in Detroit anymore. Yet the government kept taxing the companies and taxing them until they mostly left. Now there is no one left to pay the super high entitlement taxes, no jobs for the workers and only crime, empty buildings, and stupid children. Thanks Unions!

        • Mildred Midlefinch

          Yup the unions took more than they contributed, but the CEO who got 350 times what a union man did surely contributed 350 times more. Where can you buy Republican glasses that only let you see one side of things.

          • mikemc1970

            Actually good CEO’s and executives do bring more than they’re worth to the table. Otherwise they wouldn’t pay them so much, because they’re aren’t union and they don’t have to pay them that much. It’s you who need glasses, though this time try to find ones that allow you to see the truth, because it’s obviously something you’ve been missing out on for a while.

      • leh

        You also left out the portion that states Germany and Japan car makers don’t have a unionized work force. How inconventent of them.

      • ndoldman

        Look how Germany respects the dems, you couldn’t remove your lips off a dems ass even when we are looking like a joke in the eyes of the world.

  • SigFan

    Here in Pittsburgh which was one of the cradles of trade unions the sentiment toward them has chilled noticeably in the last several years. Probably has something to do with the steel industry shutting down because they couldn’t compete anymore due to their labor costs. Just a guess,

  • Harold

    Unions are needed or no one would make a living wage. However, unions sometimes demand to much too. I’d hate the day that there were no unions. Any
    kind of excess when big banks, or wall street or unions do it, makes for large problems which we are all seeing occur over the last 5 to 6 years. Economic collapse was caused in some ways by all these entities mentioned above in my view. Outright corruption caused wall street and big banks to come running for Tarp funds, and unions making demands that are bankrupting the very programs that we all aspire to retire on at some point in our lives hasn’t helped either. Where the line that benefits both management and labor is I surely don’t know but I do know that without some form of balance were all doomed to failure.

    • robert108

      “Unions are needed or no one would make a living wage.”
      Absolutely false. In our economy, something is worth what someone is willing to pay for it, and that includes wages. If you want more pay, make yourself more valuable. Using political force distorts the system and screws everybody.

  • Onslaught1066

    Are they at least organizing members in the traditionally union-friendly way?

    [IMG]http://i46.tinypic.com/xnclqb.jpg[/IMG]

  • Geoff

    TO ALL WHO POST ON THIS BLOG…… PURCHASE “SHADOWBOSSES” BY Malory Factor. Not only will you learn how dangerous unions are to the economy, you will also note that we conservatives continue to support “supposed” conservative politicians and help get them elected. Example: hoevan, daylrymple. Remember Daylrymple earned the support of teachers unions this year.

Top