Unionizing Youth

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Unions, which represented more than one-third of U.S. workers in the 1950s, have been declining steadily ever since, to the point that they now represent only a little more than 12 percent of U.S. workers.

So, how can organized labor reverse the downward trend?  The answer should be obvious. And it certainly is to union leaders: that is, recruit the workers, aged 18 to 29, who are especially hurting economically. The younger workers need unions as much as unions need them.

Unions hope to attract such workers by demonstrating that unionized workers invariably do much better than non-union workers in pay and benefits and have a greater voice in community and political affairs.

The average wage of unionized younger workers is about $15 an hour more than 12 percent or $1.75 an hour more than non-union workers of the same age. And 40 percent of unionized younger workers have employer-financed health care, while only 20 percent of those outside unions have such a benefit.

Yet despite the clear advantages of unionization, younger workers generally have had the lowest unionization rate of any age group. Only about 7 percent of workers aged 18 to 29 are in unions.


The AFL-CIO has now established a program aimed at recruiting the younger members that its affiliated unions badly need if they are to grow. But why does organized labor need a special recruiting program for the young, if the advantages of unionization are so obvious?

The answer to that is primarily that the advantages are not so obvious to many young people. And you can blame the media for that. The media barely cover unions, except when they are striking, or otherwise pressing demands for pay and benefit increases, stringent work and seniority rules and other concessions that are made to seem unreasonable by many media outlets.

In that setting, unions hardly seem attractive to young workers. An earlier generation of young workers, steeped  in the ideals of early union organizers, would undoubtedly find unionization attractive.

But this is another time and another day.
With a Perspective, this is Dick Meister.