July 24, 2010

The Declining Pull of American Unions

James Rosen has an interesting blog post about union power in US elections up over at Fox News. That power is substantial, but it's on the decline.

Organized labor spent some $75 million on federal election candidates in 2008. More than 90 percent of that money went to Democrats.

Approximately 15 million Americans belong to a union, but they represent only 12 percent of the American workforce. That's down from a peak of nearly 36 percent in 1953. Nonetheless, "unions have scored an impressive string of victories on various policy agenda items," according to Rosen, "most recently including the recess appointment by President Obama of Craig Becker, the former counsel to the Service Employees International Union, to the National Labor Relations Board."

"The most recent report from the Department of Labor showed that more union members are public employees than private sector employees," notes Michael Barone, columnist for the Washington Examiner and coauthor of The Almanac of American Politics. "So, in effect, the union movement has become a movement in large part of taxpayer-supported workers, whose leaders can put a lot of money into elections and try to elect state legislators, members of Congress, who are favorable to giving their members more money." It's amazing that just 15 million of Americans would chose to be in on this game!

Indeed, in spite of the significant political pull which unions continue to enjoy, Americans are increasingly skeptical about them. "Workers understand," according to conservative UCLA economics professor Lee Ohanian, explaining the decline in union membership. "They would like to have the opportunity to call their own shots. They can't do that with unions. And businesses understand that if they get unionized then that extremely limits their ability to hire workers."

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