Comments on economics, mystery fiction, drama, and art.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Union's share of the workforce.

Something I wrote as a letter-to-the editor of The New Republic last week, after they wrote an editorial suggesting that the decline in the unionized portion of the labor force is a result of changes in National Labor Relations Board decisions:

Your lead editorial ("Labor Pains") in the January 17, 2005 issue, correctly points out the decline in union membership as a percentage of the labor force between 1979 and 2003 (down from 24.5% to 12.9%, and even more marked in private sector employment--union representation of private sector workers declined from 22% in 1979, to 8.2% in 2003).

What you fail to point out is that from its peak in 1953 (at 32.5%; 35.7% in the private sector), union membership had already begun to fall. Indeed, between 1975 and 1979, it fell as rapidly as it has declined since--about one percentage point per year. Representation of private sector workers fell by 13.2 percentage points between 1953 and 1978--and by 13.8 percentage points between 1979 and 2004--two roughly 25-year periods. (I have drawn this union membership data from
this web site.)

Clearly, a change in the attitudes of presidents, of their appointees to the National Labor Relations Board and of the courts is a part--a large part--of the story of this decline, it is not the whole story.


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