Union Membership

By Lee, Yoonsoo; Mowry, Beth | Economic Trends, November 2007 | Go to article overview
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Union Membership


Lee, Yoonsoo, Mowry, Beth, Economic Trends


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After the National Labor Relations Act became law in 1935, organized labor unions experienced growing popularity and began to exercise their tights to collectively bargain and take part in strikes. The Act was a spin-off of President Roosevelt's New Deal, which was aimed at supporting prices and stimulating recovery from the Great Depression. Union membership increased steadily until 1954, at which point more than a quarter of all workers were unionized (17 million out of 60 million, or 28.3 percent). But since that peak, union membership has declined and stands at an all-time low of 12 percent (as of 2006).

It is not just that union membership is growing more slowly than overall job growth; the number of union members has actually been declining. While the number of people employed has increased 14 percent over the last decade, the number of union members has dropped 5.6 percent. In 2006, out of the 128.2 million workers employed, 15.4 million were union members. Some economists attribute the decline in union membership to the labor force's shift away from heavily-unionized industries such as manufacturing. Others argue that the demand for union representation has declined over time, as the public provision of social welfare benefits by the government has increasingly substituted for the benefits of union service.

The number of work stoppages has followed the same trend as union membership, declining sharply in the 1970s.

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