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Corporate & Reputation

Labor Unions Seek to Stop the Bleeding

In a disturbing trend for union loyalists, membership in organizations across the United States has reached a 76-year low, as now just 11.3 percent of employees are affiliated with their local unions.
Following a consistent 50-year downward trend, participation has dropped from 11.8 percent last year. That decline of half a percent may not seem too significant, but consider this: The United States created 1.8 million jobs in the private sector alone the last year, but union membership went down by about 400,000 workers.
Further vexing those in the pro-union camp is the fact that the general interest level is up. So what’s with the consistent decline?
For unions, the problem is basic. As in, they have forgotten the basic principles which made them a force in the workers’ industry in the first place. Membership was at an all-time high in the 1950’s, when an average of one out of every three workers joined their local affiliates. The point of being in a union was clear: join together to protect each other from unfair working conditions. Through organized strikes and collective bargaining, workers banded together to shorten work days, increase wages, and gain health benefits.
There is little doubt that labor organizations still perform under these same basic tenants for laborers, the problem is a lack of communication. When performing a quick online search, it is all too easy to see the millions of dollars lost by unions in corruption cases across the country and all the money that has been poured into political campaigns.
For the worker, the question is, “How is the money that is coming out of my paycheck helping me?” When the money is going to a politician, one the individual may not even support, it is easy to see why membership has dropped steadily over the past half-century.
The unions are not only losing out on lifetime members due to retirement, they are failing to replace those workers with fresh faces. The younger generation knows little about unions, and thus has little interest in joining them. Like any company looking for reinforcements, they need to make recruitment initiatives a priority. They need to stress the benefits joining a union has for the individual, rather than the political power they wield.
A quick look at the website unions.org puts the problem in a nutshell: there is a lot of information on the home page, but none of it is particularly useful to a prospective member. There are some links to news about recent union issues, and some tabs on the side like “Add a Union” and “Advertise With Us.”
There is not a tab for the benefits of joining a union, which, in spite of its declining membership, are still vast. For example, on average, union members make 28 percent more than non-union members.
The benefits are even greater for those who may need the most protecting: Female and minority workers. For them, that wage benefit jumps to 29 percent for African-Americans, 34 percent for women and a whopping 59 percent for Latino workers. The advantages do not stop with salaries, as they extend to health care and pensions for the union member compared to the non-union member.
These statistics need to be presented loud and proud on every union website, FaceBook page, and twitter profile. They need to make bumper stickers and hand them out to every member at every meeting, free of charge.
There is nothing wrong with being involved in politics. Those actions should continue to be encouraged. But if the unions do not get back to the roots that made them a force in the first place, they will shrivel up from the inside and lose the political might they have enjoyed for so many years – a trend that has already started.
In the past year, unions have taken two monumental defeats on the chin. A union-led strike of a Hostess bakery crippled the company and led to a declaration bankruptcy. In that instance, the union negotiated its workers right out of their jobs, as Hostess is now in the process of liquidating its assets.
Labor organizations invested millions in Wisconsin, where they pushed for a recall of Republican Governor Scott Walker, only for Walker to win by a bigger margin than the original victory. That loss could point to why unions in Michigan called off a recount of Rick Snyder before it ever got past the petition phase. Michigan has since become the nation’s 24th Right To Work state, yet another blow to unions in that labor-intensive region.
For unions, it is time to get back to basics. It is time to communicate their advantages. And they better hurry, because the time is also running out.
Dan Rene is a Senior Vice President at LEVICK and a contributing author to LEVICK Daily.

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Senior Vice President

Dan Rene possesses more than a decade of trusted communications experience in media relations and crisis communications. His background includes political campaign management, legislative advocacy, grassroots initiatives, and corporate...