A Knockout Punch for Public-Sector Unions?
The Wisconsin recall election is one more nail in the union movement’s coffin.
Last February I wrote that, according to Labor Department statistics, union membership in the U.S. today stands at only 11.8% of the total workforce. Twenty-five years ago 20% of U.S. workers belonged to a labor union. According to a New York Times article written earlier this year, U.S. union membership fell to a 70-year low in 2010. The majority of union represented jobs in today’s total workforce are in the public sector.
Public-sector employees have generally been a “captive” market for unions because unions contribute to politicians, and when politicians are elected, it’s payback time. Elected officials have been reluctant to disappoint the unions that helped get them elected. That all changed in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin recall election signals the end of an era for public-sector unions. Over the next several years we will see a sharp decrease in the number of public-sector employees who are union members.
Here’s why. A provision in the new Wisconsin law essentially gives union workers the right to “opt-out” of paying union dues. Under the new rule, when contracts expire, the State can stop collecting dues on the unions’ behalf. When one Wisconsin union’s contract expired, membership in the union was reported in the Wall Street Journal Online (May 30, 2012) to have declined from 62,818 members to 28,745. As other contracts expire it is almost certain that more union members will opt-out of paying dues. This is exactly why the unions fought so hard to cut-short Scott Walker’s term as Wisconsin’s governor. Union dues, the lifeblood of unions, are drying up. In coming years, we will see other states model themselves after Wisconsin as they deal with unions to control the cost of pensions and benefits.
If workers are not “forced” to pay dues through automatic payroll deductions, why wouldn’t they simply agree to make payments directly to their unions? The reason is simple. Many union members find very little value in union membership. Most workers today have good wages and solid benefits. This is especially true for government employees.
So, what do unions do for their members these days? In most cases, not much. Yes, they collectively bargain new labor contracts every few years, but most employees see union contract negotiations as unsettling and disruptive, producing predictable and similar results. And, from time to time, unions may intercede to help settle disputes between workers and management, but most issues can be resolved quickly without involvement of a union or some other “third party.” Bosses today are trained to listen and respond to the needs of their employees. Meetings with employees occur regularly to discuss working conditions, issues and concerns. Most managers are trained to address issues proactively before they become problems.
Many union members are fed up with their union leaders. They see their dues spent foolishly, often donated to political causes and politicians they, themselves, don’t support. They are upset with promises union leaders make, but can’t fulfill. Finally, they dislike the “strong-arm” intimidation tactics encouraged by union leadership.
Here’s the bottom line: Public-sector unions are entering a new era; an era in which union membership will steadily decline.
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