Unions are in trouble. Membership is declining, public pension plans are dangerously underfunded, and young workers are not interested in diverting a portion of their paychecks to dues that offer them few benefits in return. Half the states have passed “right to work” legislation that says that workers cannot be forced to join a union as a condition of employment. In the face of these challenges, the union membership rate has fallen to a 100-year low.
Membership rates continue to fall as traditionally unionized industries such as steel and textiles move offshore and younger workers choose the non-union sector. Only 4 percent of employed 16 to 24 year-olds are union members, and the membership rate for workers 25 to 34 years old is less than 10 percent. Union shops tend to value tenure over skill, and merit bonuses are nowhere to be found. Young workers are the first to be fired, even if they are more competent than experienced employees. Workers aged 45 to 64 have the highest union participation rate at 14 percent.
Given the costs of joining a union, it is unsurprising that unionization rates increase with age and few young people clamor to sign up. Younger workers already ask what that FICA tax is doing in their paycheck, and union dues add another 2 percent to 4 percent tax. United Food and Commercial Workers dues range from <href=”#dues”>$19 to $60 a month, according to the union’s website. Initiation fees can add another $50 to $100, the price of a year’s worth of Netflix.
Reasonable people would expect union bosses to reevaluate unpopular policies in an attempt to attract and retain new members. Reasonable people would be mistaken. Rather than competing in the labor market, union bosses favor influencing government policy by doubling down on political donations.
Unions are required to file annual financial and membership data with the Department of Labor, and recently-released LM-2 forms show that unions continue to struggle to gain new members.
United Food & Commercial Workers International Union membership has fallen 4 percent from its peak in 2009, to 1.3 million. Over this same time, employment has risen by 7 percent. Service Employees International Union membership has fallen 2 percent from its peak in 2011, to 1.9 million. AFL-CIO membership has fallen 7 percent from its peak in 2005 to 12.7 million, although membership has risen over the past few years.