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Why education of unionisation in the US is needed now more than ever

Yesterday, Vox posted a very interesting YouTube video on why the US has seen such a decline in unionisation and why the unions from manufacturing didn’t transfer over into services.

Today, the share of workers who belong to a labour union in the US has fallen to 10% (6% not including gov employees) this fall has been plummeting since the 1950s. So, how can they reverse this historical decline? 

Interestingly, union density did also decline in other countries and economies grew over time, globalisation and autonation cleared job growth away from domestic factories where union membership was high and instead went into service providing jobs where unions wrent established. The economy seemed to grow outside of the unions. 

However, America’s fall is more drastic than neighbouring countries such as Canada and other Western countries with similar economic histories. In fact, a paper by economist Zachary Schaller estimates that 40% of the decline in union elections in the US can be explained by growth and change across sectors. He found that union elections fell across sectors which explains why America’s union decline fell more than Canada. 

The US’s union peak density peaked back in the 1950s with the steepest drops in the 80s but declines beginning in the 70s. Post war America pushed for capitalism which gave the American worker the highest standard of living in the world with unions negotiating much of this. The 1970s saw high inflation and thus high unemployment and employers moving factories to the south and hiring anti-union consulting. The strategies got a boost from Reagen in 1981 where Reagan fired 111,000 striking workers. 

So does government policy make it hard to unionise? At least 30% of workers need to sign a petition in order to be considered for a union by the employer. However the employer is never obligated to agree on a contract and for those that do it takes on average 409 days. In Canada however, if such a contract took a year, then negotiations get referred to an arbitrator which shifts the incentive structure. 

Let’s compare the efficiency of union progress in the US and Canada. In the US, it takes 46 days for a petition to move onto an election. In Canada, this is 5 to 10. In the US, during these 46 days employers can pull workers into meetings convincing workers to pull out. This is all legal. There have been many cases of employers even firing union organisers. The penalty if caught? A slap on the wrist, well, the employer must just apologise and rehire the worker.

Do people want to union in the US? Public approval of unions is currently higher than it’s been since the 1960s with 48% of people not in a union saying they’d vote for one in their workplace. With the pandemic as a catalyst and the unemployment rate low, union education is the main issue with many not understanding what a union can do for working class people. 

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