The Rise and fall of Unions in the United States

TheRise and fall of Unions in the United States


Thepurpose of the present study was to evaluate the rise and the fall ofthe labor unions in the United States. Labor unions were started inthe nineteenth century with the objective of fighting for the rightsof workers, which include the demand for better wages and salaries,healthy working conditions, and reasonable working hours. The numberof sectors being unionized increased from the nineteenth century tomid-twentieth century. Similarly, the number of workers who joinedthe unions increased up to 1945, when union membership starteddecreasing. Although collective bargaining was introduced in the latenineteenth century, their effect was felt in the twentieth century.This resulted in the reduction in the use of violence to fight forthe rights of workers. Trends indicate that union membership in theprivate sector has been decreasing at a higher rate than in thepublic sector. Legislation and lobbying could not prevent the fall ofunions, which has been taking place to date.

Keywords: Unionization, lobbying, collective bargaining, Labor unions,craft unions, picketing laws.

TheRise and fall of Unions in the United States

Thespirit of the labor unions is based on the principle that unity isstrength while division brings in the weakness in the labor market.Unions are industry-specific, but they are more common and vibrant inthe mining, transport, manufacturing, construction, and the publicsector. Workers form labor unions with the objective of increasingtheir bargaining power and increasing their capacity to fight fortheir rights. In most cases, labor unions are formed to reasonableworking hours, better wages, and safer working conditions for theirmembers (Orbaiceta, 2013). Most employers, if not all, do not likeunions because they reduce the employers’ flexibility to alterwages, recruitment, and firing, and waking hours for theirconvenience. This implies that unions are formed to confrontemployers (including the government) and pressure them to payattention to the demands of their employees. To this end, unionsusually face many challenges, where some of them are associated withpolitical conditions, changes in the society as well as the economy,and unfavorable institutional conditions. The growth of the unions inthe United States has been fluctuating, and it is characterized bydowns ∩-shaped pattern that became more pronounced in the 20thcentury and early twenty the first century.

Instructure, this paper consists of six major sections. The first partdescribes the early forms of labor unions, where most of them werecraft organizations.

Thesecond section focuses on the introduction of the concept ofcollective bargaining in the nineteenth century, its effects, whichinclude the reduction in the use of violence and increase in therecognition of unions.

Thethird section focuses on the increase in productivity of labor inearly twentieth century and its effect on the growth of labor unions.The high rate of union’s growth continued until 1945 when the unionmembership started decreasing steadily. The section also addressesthe impact of legislation on the increase in the recognition ofunions.

Thefourth section addresses the major defeats that that contributedtowards the fall of the unions, especially starting from the late1960s. Some of the factors considered in the section include theincrease in the transfer of businesses, outsources of labor, andfailure of political strategies.

Thefifth section focuses on the fall of labor unions between 1985 and2014. This section also discusses the major trends in the fall of theunions. This shows that membership in the private sector, unionsdecreased at a higher rate that the membership of the public sectorunions.

Lastly,the paper concludes that the rise and the subsequent fall of laborunions in the United States can be summarized in a dome shape, withthe membership in 1945 indicating the climax.

Earlyforms of unions, mid-nineteenth century

Thedevelopment of unions in the U.S. started in the mid-nineteenthcentury, but the initial unions served as craft guide and mutual aidunions. The driving factor for the development of these unions wasthe need to enforce working standards and restrict entry into thecraft industry (Domhoff, 2013). The rapid growth of industries thatbegan in the early nineteenth century created tension amongemployees, who feared that employers might impose a sudden cut inwages, increase the number of working hours, and force them to workin unsafe and unhealthy working conditions. People working on therailway, mining, construction, and railway building formed city-wideunions in Philadelphia, Boston, and New York between 1833 and 1837,forming what was referred to as the General Trade Union (Domhoff,2013). However, these unions faced a lot of resistance and challengescaused by employees who intended to retain power over employees.

Unions’growth following the Civil War economic development

TheUnited States experienced a rapid economic growth soon after theCivil War, which motivated the members of craft unions to form aunion that would represent the interests of workers across thecountry. The first national union, known as the Knight of Labor, wasformed in 1896 by the garment cutters in Philadelphia (Edwards,2000). The Knight came up with a new approach for fighting for therights of the union members. The new organization emphasized onsupport for the general social progress, citizenship rights,inclusion of employees of all races and craft unions, and cooperativetypes of organizations. This means that the functions, objectives,and the membership of the unions were diversified. The sudden 10 %wage cut of 1873 in Ohio and Baltimore resulted in serious crisisthat resulted in the burning of about 39 buildings, burning of 104locomotives, killing 100 people, and imprisonment of many people(Domhoff, 2013). This gave the government and stakeholders a clearpicture of what the unions can do in case their voice is not heard bythe stakeholders. The violence also helped the unions estimate theirpower and they started making more demands, such as old-age pensionand accident insurance.

Introductionof collective bargaining in the late nineteenth century

Employeesand the leaders of labor unions had a misconceived perception thattheir rights could only be resolved through violence. After, theeconomic repression of 1886 created an opportunity for employers andemployees to resolve labor issues through collective bargaining(Domhoff, 2013). This resulted from the decline of Knight of Laborand the subsequent formation of a more advance union referred to asthe American Federation of Labor. The union reduced the need for theuse of destructive and violent approaches. AFL recruited about 40different craft unions with members of each union working indifferent industry. The union members included the cigar makers,typographers, iron molders, and carpenters and other groups. The factthat craft unions were formed by members from different industriesincreased their strength and the rate of growth. This is because theunions, under the umbrella of AFL could ask for strikes of allemployees at the same time, thus reducing the chances of replacement.The increase in strength allowed the union to negotiate differentissues (such as the general policy, the influx of semi-skilledemployees from other countries, unexplained wage cuts, and unpaidovertimes) with employers. In addition, the special skills requiredin some types of jobs (such as typography and press) forced employersto accept the demands of employees since the cost of theirreplacement was prohibitive. This contributed towards rapid growth ofunions between 1873 and 1900 (Domhoff, 2013).

Theperiod of good feeling and the subsequent setback for the unions

Theperiod between 1897 and 1904 was characterized by the establishmentof an integrated corporate community, which resulted in thedomination of the U.S economy by a few large companies. It isestimated that about 57 % of the total industrial output in the U.S.were made by four large companies (Domhoff, 2013). The successfulcompanies could now approach the labor unions and invite them fornegotiations, and this resulted in a good feeling for both theemployees and the employers. Corporations also formed the employerorganizations that could establish competitive industries and counterthe efforts of labor unions. The large companies also dominated thegovernment at all levels, which created a perception that unionscould no longer win their fights through work stoppages and strikes.This weakened the labor unions and created the needed for theestablishment of the National Civic Federation in 1900, which couldaddress the needs of employees in the new environment (Cyphers,2002). NCF was formed by representatives of the large corporationsand different labor unions, implying that employees’ issues couldnow be handled through the collective agreement of the employer andthe representatives of employees.

Thereturn of violence

Themeasures put in place by the dominant corporations to facilitatecollective bargaining could not last long as employees felt thattheir concerns were not satisfactorily addressed. The popularity ofcollective bargaining had weakened the unions significantly, andtheir impact in the society could not be felt. Violence broke uptowards the end of 1904 when employees in the steel industry feltthat the agreements reached through collective bargaining were not intheir favor (Domhoff, 2013). This provided an opportunity for unionsto reorganize and grow again. The large corporations used educationalprograms and welfare instead of collective bargaining. However, theseefforts to suppress the growth of unions could not last long and theunions engaged in violence in 1910 and 1911 when iron makers’unions made dynamite attacks on constructions sites. The onset of theWorld War I shifted the power balance between the labor unions andthe business. The attempt by the unions to gain recognition resultedin the arrest of the radicals of the labor unions. The strength ofunions reduced from 20 % to 10 %, significantly from the late 1910sto early 1930s (Domhoff, 2013). Although the unions lost theirrecognition in the United States, they maintained their existenceawaiting the opportunity to thrive again.

Thesignificance of early legislative in fueling the growth of unions

Thelabor unions and the sympathizers of the arrested leaders of theseunions pressured for the formulation of legislation that couldprotect the rights of an employee following the continued suppressionof the labor unions. For example, the enactment of the Railway LaborAct in the year 1926 protected the rights of workers in the railwayindustry, which motivated, skilled workers to retain their loyaltyfor the railway sector (MacDougall, 2011). This was followed byanother legislation known as the Norris-LaGuardia Act in the year1932, which contained important provisions that supported organizedlabor in the United States. This legislation prohibited companiesfrom forcing potential employees to relinquish their unionmemberships as the first condition for employment and protected theunions from unwarranted prosecutions. This legislation created a newplatform for the growth of labor unions in the United States. Inessence, the acts according the unions and employees the legalprotection that they missed in the past, thus ensuring that theleaders of the unions could conduct their operations through legallyaccepted procedures.

Anincrease in labor productivity and its effect on the growth of laborunions

The1920s was characterized by for formulation of emergency legislation,most of which seemed to protect the interests of employees. Startingfrom the year 1933, the need for the protection of employerorganizations in the banking and the agricultural sectors arose.However, the plan to protect the corporate through legislation couldnot work for long since there were some legislators, especially inthe Senate, who sympathized with employees. This resulted in thepassage and the enactment of a liberal bill that reduced the weeklywork hours to 30 and for the same wage, which was in the favor of thelabor unions (Domhoff, 2013). The corporate world reacted to thislegislation by pressing for the enactment of the National IndustrialRecovery Act, which would facilitate collective bargaining betweenthe unions and businesses via boards with more representatives fromthe companies. This was an effort to curtail the growth of laborunions by countering the milestones that the labor unions hadachieved following the passage of favorable legislation.

TheNational Industrial Recovery Act and its impact on the growth oflabor unions

Mostof the effort that had been applied during the first 3 decades of thetwentieth century to prevent further labor organizations and workerunrest failed to work as expected. For example, the implementation ofthe National Industrial Recovery Act managed to disorganize thecapitalists, but facilitated the organization of the working class(McDowell, 2014). It was generally perceived that the idea ofcollective bargaining was now being facilitated by the state throughenacted legislation, instead of the organized corporate world and thelabor unions. However, the existing legislation could onlyfacilitate the organization of labor in industries with a few workerssince they could easily organize themselves into an industry wideunion. Therefore, the objective of helping the labor market toorganize itself into strong unions was yet to be realized.

Therise of labor unions in the agricultural sector

Theexistence of legislation that favored labor unions did not helpworkers in the agricultural workers with many, but scattered in therural areas. Their efforts to stop wage cuts by the farm owners andthe recognition of their union could not succeed. For example, thelarge number of work stoppages that occurred between 1933 and 1935,especially in California failed to restore wages for the farm workers(Domhoff, 2013). However, things changed when the farmers’ unionswere joined by outside agitators (including people like Roosevelt,leftists, and liberals who had access to the media) and could nowconduct massive protests that could disturb the landowners. The newwave of conflict between the labor coalitions and the business-farmalliance marked the beginning of the process of establishing stronglabor unions in the agriculture sector and their subsequentrecognition. These unions, especially those that operated in theSouth and California, also received a lot of support from theCommunist party.

Governmentintervention and its impact on the labor unions

Therenewed strength of the labor unions in the early 1930s was an issueof concern, both to the government and employers. This strength wascharacterized by regular strikes, social unrest, and the spoilage ofagricultural produce. This agitated President Roosevelt, who feltthat the government intervention in resolving the labor disputes wasnecessary. This resulted in the formation of the labor disputesboard, referred to as the National Labor Board that, which wasmandated with the role of facilitating collective bargaining(National Labor Relations Board, 2014). Although the decision to formthe National Labor Board was to facilitate concession between laborunions and employer alliances, most of the decisions made by theboard favored the labor unions. For example, the rule made by themajority of the NLB in 1934 that the Union and the representatives ofemployees hat had been selected by the majority of employees shouldbe recognized as the only bargaining agent of all employeesdisappointed the anti-union employers (Domhoff, 2013). This decisionprevented the divide and rule strategy used by anti-union employerswho preferred to negotiate with small or craft unions, which couldpressure on their part. Therefore, the formation of the NLD was theground for further development and recognition of the labor unions.

TheNLRA and the growth of unions

Thelack of agreement in terms of fair representation of the employee andemployees in the labor dispute boards necessitated the formulation ofanother government agency that would accommodate the concerns of bothsides. The act was framed by Senator Wagner with the objective ofestablishing friendly relationships between employees and employers,which would be achieved by ensuring that the conditions of work, wagerates, working hours, and other issues were fair on the part of theemployee and the employer. This resulted in the passage and enactmentof the National Labor Relations Act in the year 1935, which offeredthe legal basis for the formation of the National Labor RelationsBoard (Flynn, 2000). The new board served as the Supreme Court thatwould focus more on the enforcement or rights, instead of playing therole of mediation. The board was mandated to enforce bargaining unitsthat were deemed to be appropriate remedies, especially for employeeswho had been fired by employees for their union activities. Thisfunction of the board protected and motivated the leaders of laborunions to carry out their activities without the fear of losing jobs,thus strengthening the labor unions. However, the National LaborRelations Act, similar to most of the previous legislation, excludeddomestic employees and people working in the agriculture sector, thusweakening the labor unions in the two sectors.

Factorsthat contributed towards the passage of the NLRA

Theease with which the National Labor Relations Act was passed has beenquestioned given the extensive lobbying that the anti-unionismemployers had done to oppose it. Apart from the need to satisfy theunited and militant working class, there are three major factors thatcontributed towards the passage of the NLRA. First, the decision bythe liberal labor alliances to exclude domestic and agriculturalunions convinced the Democrats as well to vote for the act (Domhoff,2013). This is because the economy of the South was mainly supportedby agriculture and exclusion of the two sectors would contain thelabor unions in the region. Secondly, most of the provisions of theact were acceptable to liberals and centrists who dominated theexecutive arm of the government, including Perkins and Roosevelt.These liberals believed that the establishment of strong unions wasthe only sensible, effective, and safe way of dealing with employees(Domhoff, 2013). Third, the craft unions formed by the native-bornemployees and industrial unions formed by the African Americans hadestablished an alliance that voted the Democrats. This implies thatthe unity of craft unions had given them the enough power to bargainwith politicians, which allowed them to overturn the power of theorganized corporate world that had oppressed them for long. Theexclusion of domestic and agricultural workers was a politicalstrategy that would ensure that the bill proposing the NLRA pass inthe Senate.

Theperiod between 1935 and 1940s was characterized by the rise andsubsequent fall in the strength of unions. This was mainly caused bysignificant challenges (such as the decision on whether unions shouldadopt the industrial structure or remain as individual craft unionsand the change in the balance of political power following theRoosevelt recession of 1937 and 1938 (Veld, 2009). Leaders of thecraft unions rejected the idea of the formation of industrial unionsbecause they wanted to protect their leadership positions, whichprevented them from perceiving the power of unity. The loss of theLiberal’s tyranny of numbers in the Congress affected the progressof unions because the Democrats, who were now the majority, did notbelieve in the existence of strong labor unions. The two majorchallenges denied the labor unions the benefits accorded by the NLRA.However, there are some unions that benefited from certain governmentpolicies that favored their growth. For example, an increase indefense spending favored the construction unions between 1939 and1941, which contributed towards the growth of the union membershipfrom 3 million workers in 1934 to about 9 million in the year 1939(Veld, 2009). This means that the labor unions achieved a significantgrowth in the 1930s in spite of the political challenges they facedduring this period.

Theworld war two and the climax of the rise of unions in the UnitedStates

Thetight labor market caused by rapid industrial conversion and defensebuild-up allowed the labor unions to renew their upsurge startingfrom the year 1940. This forced President Roosevelt to form atemporary National Labor Board composed of the governmentrepresentatives, union representatives, and corporate executives.Although the corporate executives resisted the decisions that wouldfacilitate the growth of unions, the board managed to make anagreement that allowed the newly employed workers to become membersof existing unions automatically in exchange for the no-strike deal.This was a significant boost for the union and resulted in a drasticincrease in the membership from 9 million in 1941 to 15 million bythe year 1945, which represented 35 % of all categories of workers(Domhoff, 2013). This was the highest and the climax of the unionmembership in the United Stated as shown in Figure 1.

Figure1: Trends in union membership in the United States

Source:Mayer (2004)

Defeatof the labor unions after the Second World War

Thedrastic growth in the union membership during the Second World Warcaused the union leaders to mute their antagonism towards the leadersof the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). The post-war wascharacterized by a serious inflation, which was attributed to anincrease in wage rates, implying that the labor unions were to blame(Mayer, 2004). This resulted in the loss of public support for theunions, which in turn resulted in a reduction in union membership asshown in Figure 2. Consequently, all the stakeholders (including thegovernment, policy makers, and corporate owners) started consideringmeasures that would contain the strength of labor unions in anattempt to salvage the national economy. There are two major factorsthat contributed towards the decline in the union membership between1945 the and early 1950s. First, the formation of the Taft-HartleyAct in 1947, which was referred to as the Labor Management Act was asignificant blow to the labor unions (Mayer, 2004). The act preventedthe formation of new unions in un-unionized sectors and gave newrights to corporations. For example, the act downgraded thesignificance of collective bargaining and replaced it with the rightfor free speech for both the employees and employers. This empoweredthe employers and they could refuse talks with employees andpropagandize them through the issue of flayers, pamphlets, andspeeches. This resulted in the stagnation of the employee salary andwages for about thirteen years before a further decline in the early1950s.

Figure2: Relationship between public support and union membership

Source:Mayer (2004)

Theeffect of disagreements within the unions on their growth

Laborunions remained relatively robust in the middle 1950s in spite of theoppressive legislative and policy measures taken to contain theirprogress. This has been attributed to the merger of CIO and AFL inthe year 1956, which resulted in strike successes and increased thevisibility of unions (Ashack, 2008). The big unions managed to makecontracts with different companies and pressure for an increase inthe government spending. However, the overall appearance and thestructure of the unions were declining as shown Figure 1. Thiscontinued decline was attributed to disagreements among the unionmembers on the issue of inclusion of the African American workersinto existing craft unions. Some of the craft unions thatdiscriminated against the African American workers faced the threatof decertification. The negative effect of racial discrimination onthe success of unions continued until the 1960s when the civil rightmovements captured the attention of the public and the government.

Majorblows for the labor unions

Thedefeat of the construction unions

Themajor blow to the construction unions occurred in the year 1969 whena new corporate organization referred to as the Anti-InflationRoundtable was started (Mayer, 2004). This corporate organization wasstarted to insure organizations in the construction industry againstwage and salary increment demands that were beyond the inflationrate. The members of the organization included General Electric,Alcoa, General Motors, and U.S. Steel among others. This gave firmsin the construction industry a go ahead to refuse negotiations thatwould increase their cost of production and reduce their returns. Thecontinued increase in the cost-push inflation resulted in the supportof the idea avoiding wage increment by legislators (such as SenatorBurn) in the 1970s (Domhoff, 2013). This was followed by a freeze inthe pay raise for about 1.3 million employees working in theconstruction industry. This means that employees, especially in theconstruction industry would now absorb the burden of inflation.

Effectof outflow of jobs on the strength of Unions

Changesthat occurred in the structure and leadership of the Labor Law ReformGroup in the early 1970s created an opportunity for the localcompanies to transfer their operations in other countries where laborand other costs of production were lower. Prior to changes in thestructure of LLRG, the companies were supposed to negotiate withemployees and their unions about the transfer and the effects ofthose transfers. However, the changes allowed firms that were notcomfortable with domestic labor issues to transfer their plants oroutsource labor from the low-wage American states as well as thedeveloping countries (Domhoff, 2013). This was a major defeat for thedomestic labor market and the labor unions since outsourcing andtransfer of plants would translate to a reduction in the unionmembership, thus reducing the strength of labor unions.

Failureof the political strategies to salvage the unions in 1974

Soonafter the realization of the challenges that the unions were facing,their leader resolved t0o use the political strategies to win theirbattle. Although the Democrats, who support the labor unions, wonmore seats in the 1974 elections, their number was not enough toovercome the conservative coalition (Domhoff, 2013). In addition,President Gerald Ford had veto power, which was difficult toovercome, thus making it more difficult for unions to push theirissues. This means that it was increasingly difficult for the unionsto move their agenda through the two legislative houses. Moreover,the president was obliged to consider the concerns of the corporateleaders before signing any legislation pushed by the unions. Thismeans that lobbying the two houses was not just enough for the laborunions to achieve their goals.

Unions`defeat during the leadership of President Jimmy Carter

JimmyCarter was one of the top leaders who supported the labor unions intheir quest for changes in the labor laws. Following the Carterselection in 1976, unions revived their push for reforms in laborlaws, especially those that could allow picketing of workers(Domhoff, 2013). President Carter held that labor reforms should bepresented in the two legislative houses as a comprehensive document,but unions insisted that picketing laws were more important andshould be presented first. Although the president supported the bill,there were other groups (such as the National Action Committee) thatmanaged to lobby the National Assembly, which resulted in its fallbefore reaching the Senate (Domhoff, 2013). This was a major defeatbecause it was now clear that labor unions could not make it, evenwith an increase in the number of Democrats in the union. Thistranslated to a further decrease in the strength of unions and theirmember.

Over-concentrationon the political support and the decline in unions’ strength

Duringthe late 1970s, labor unions focused their efforts on winning the twomajor political divides (including the Democrats and the Liberals),while forgetting that there were other factors affecting the unions,other than legislation. After observing the high level of impunityamong the corporate with regard to labor laws, unions decided to seekfor major reforms in procedures contained in the Labor Law. Thereforms were referred to as the Labor Law Reform Act, which wasenacted in 1977 with the aim of advocating the interests of employees(Ashack, 2008). Some of the changes documented in the new lawincluded the expansion of the National Labor Relations Board and anincrease in penalties for employers who fired union activists.Although the bill seemed to be a success for the unions, thecontinued transfer of companies to the south as well as overseas, anincrease in anti-union corporate relations, and racial divisionswithin the craft unions were difficult to overcome. This implies thatthe law reforms could do little to reduce the decline in the strengthand membership of the unions.

Unions’defeat during the leadership of President Reagan

PresidentRonald Reagan is one of the U.S. presidents who played a major rolein reducing the strength of the labor unions in the United States.Unions’ cutback was one of Reagan’s top agenda starting from theyear 1981 (Ashack, 2008). This began with the PATCO union for the airtraffic controllers, which demanded a high pay raise that thegovernment could afford. This resulted in the dissolution of theunion by the President, which reduced the size of public unionmembership and the overall strength of the labor unions (McCartin,2011). Reagan’s decision to dissolve PATCO gave employers the gutsto utilize the 1938 ruling by the Supreme Court, which authorizedemployers to recruit permanent replacements for employees on strike.Moreover, President Reagan appointed ultraconservative memberofficials to serve on the National Labor Relations Board, which was amajor blow to the unions. The newly constituted board overturned mostof the decisions made by pro-labor board members during theleadership of President Carter (Gross, 1995). The illegal firing ofthe labor union supporters increased during the Reagan’s leadershipas shown in Figure 3.

Figure3: Trends in illegal firing

Source:Bloomberg (1994)

Thefall of unions between 1985 and 2014

Theleadership of President Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and PresidentGeorge W. Bush denied labor unions the chance to win significantlegislative changes that would have increased their strength.However, these unions had some hope with the leadership of PresidentBarack Obama, who had expressed his support for the rights ofemployees during his term as a senator. For example, Obama supportedthe Employee Free Choice Act during his term as a senator and thepresidency (Battista, Ferber &amp Skinberg, 2008). This act requiredcorporations to bargain with labor unions in case most of theirmembers agreed to sign some cards expressing their interests in beingrepresented by unions. However, it has been challenging to return theunions to their growth path, in spite of the legal protection.

AlthoughPresident Obama expressed his desire to protect the rights of workersmore than his predecessors, the corporate heads that supported hiscampaigns were a stumbling block. They could do media campaigns andexpress directly to the president they did support the Employee FreeChoice Act. For example, the corporate leadership conducted amultibillion media campaign under what was referred to as the“Workplace Fairness Institute” in the year 2009 (Domhoff, 2013).Corporations claimed that the act would deny employees the right tovote against or for the unionization of their sectors, but this wasperceived to a hypocritical claim. In addition, the Chicago billionwho had funded Obama campaigns raised billions of money to lobbyagainst the pro-union bill ahead of its debate in Congress (Lippert &ampHolly, 2009). This put President Obama at cross-road given that mostof his supporters were anti-unions, while his position was thatemployees needed to be protected through legislation.

Trendsof decline in the strength of unions

Thefailure of the efforts to protect unions through legislation in 2009was one of the latest blows that have contributed towards thepersistent decline in the number of union members, which is acontinuation of the previous trends. The private-sector membersamounted to 17 million in the year 1970, 16.2 million in 1975, and15.3 million in 1980 (Miller &amp William, 1995). However, thepublic-sector members increased from the mid 1970s before stagnatingat about 35 % in the year 2012 and remained at the same rate in 2013as shown in Figure 4. In total, the number of wages and salaryworkers who were union members was 11.3 % for both the public andprivate sectors (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014). The total numberof union members in 2013 was 14.5 million compared to 17.7 millionworkers in 1983 (BLS, 2014). This indicates that, although the numberof employment opportunities has been increasing, the number ofemployees willing to join unions has been decreasing with time.However, the rate of decrease is higher in the private sector than inthe public sector.

Figure4: Trends of changes in the number of union members

Sourse:Hirsch (2008)

Figure4 shows that union membership in the private sector has beendecreasing at a higher rate than in the public sector.


Thegrowth of labor unions in the U.S. can be represented by a domeshape. This is because the number of union members increased steadilyand started decreasing starting from the end of the Second World Warto date. Initially, the rise and growth of unions were facilitated bythe militancy of the union leaders, the use of violence, and strikesto demand recognition. However, the use of these violent tacticsreduced in the early part of the twentieth century following theintroduction of the concept of collective bargaining, where corporateleaders and union leaders could negotiate the union demands and reachan agreement. In addition, the successful use of legislation toincrease the union recognition, economic growth, and an increase inthe government spending facilitated the rise and growth of unions inthe fast half of the 20th century. However, the climax of the growthof unions was reached in the year 1945, soon after the Second WorldWar, from where the union membership started decreasing down to date.Initially, the rise of labor unions was perceived to belong to theprivate sector, before the unionization of the public sector in themiddle of the 20th century. Trends indicate that the public sectorunion membership have not been decreasing at a high rate compared tothe private sector, which has experienced a significant decrease overthe years.


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