Union Membership Rises, but Quality of Jobs Has Changed

Source: Jeremy Smerd, Workforce Management, February 7, 2008

The proportion of union workers is up for the first time in decades, but jobs are more likely to be low-wage.

Union membership as a part of the overall workforce in the United States grew last year for the first time in a quarter-century, according to analysis by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The news, published January 25, came a day after the Ford Motor Co. announced it would further reduce the number of hourly workers by 11,000 on top of the 44,000 jobs the auto-maker has shed since 2006.

It represents part of the seismic shift in the makeup of America’s unionized workforce. Today, a union worker is more likely to be a low-skilled, low-paid service worker than a skilled, well-paid manufacturing employee.

“The future of the unions is the $8-an-hour home health care worker,” says David Gregory, professor of law at St. John’s University. The unions may have regained membership with lower-wage service workers, but they cannot regain the dues lost along with higher-paid jobs, Gregory says.

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