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Union Membership Declines in 2000 Despite Organizing Successes

Union Membership Declines in 2000 Despite Organizing Successes
  • January 30, 2001

Last year, the AFL-CIO proclaimed a goal of organizing one million new members per year. However, newly-released Department of Labor statistics show union membership actually declined by 219,000 to 13.5% of the U.S. workforce, and just 9% of private sector employees. Union leaders expressed frustration and disappointment with the numbers, yet also renewed their vow to commit heavy resources to organizing new groups in 2001.

A separate National Labor Relations Board report just issued reflects inroads by labor in certain organizing initiatives last year. Despite overall membership losses, union membership increased in a number of groups the AFL-CIO has called "key to unions' future growth," including women and professionals. Union membership among women rose by 152,000 and by 58,000 among professionals and related services. The AFL-CIO also touted gains among African Americans and Latinos.

By focusing on these and other targeted groups, unions managed to post a win rate of 52.4% in NLRB-conducted representation elections in the first half of 2000. In fact, the union win rate has steadily increased each year since 1996, when unions won only 47.7% of elections.

NLRB statistics confirm that organized labor has continued efforts to hold representation elections in growing, nonmanufacturing industries. Statistically, these employees are more likely to vote in favor of union representation than those in the manufacturing sector. In the first ten months of 2000, 818 representation elections (35%) were held among service sector employees, including healthcare workers, with a union win rate of 61.1%.

Unions continue to enjoy greater success in organizing smaller groups of employees. Year 2000 statistics continue to show that the smaller the voting group, the greater the likelihood the union will win the election. In units of up to 49 voters, the union success rate was 57.3%. For the union-free health care employer, these reports should signal the immediate need to review and reaffirm the facility's employee relations strategy to reduce vulnerability to organizing efforts. Such a preventive strategy includes policies and programs that assure compliance with employment laws, as well as supervisory training.

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