Union membership is down and HR might be responsible, say experts
- Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows union membership deceased 0.4% in 2016 to 10.7%, reports SHRM. Membership dropped by 240,000 workers between 2015 and 2016.
- Jim Gray, cited by SHRM, attributes the decline to HR and increased employee engagement. He told SHRM that when employers respond to workers’ concerns, unions have a harder time recruiting members, especially young workers.
- But David Madland, senior advisor for the Washington, D.C.-based American Worker Project, told SHRM that union membership declined because of anti-labor, political right-wing tactics. He said that although most Americans support unions, these tactics have harmed what he called the only “real voice” workers control.
Both sides of the argument about why union membership is declining have merit.
Employees sometimes turn to unions when employers ignore their concerns. Gray is correct to point out that engaged workers experience higher job satisfaction, and therefore are not as easily convinced that they need union representation to handle grievances.
However, if some pro-worker laws are rolled back under the Trump administration, an uptick in union membership could occur. This should be a warning for employers to step up their employee engagement efforts. Gig economy and contingent workers complicate the matter further.
Some Republican governors and lawmakers support right-to-work laws, which prohibit unions from requiring workers, both union and nonunion, to pay union dues. Wisconsin passed laws that labor leaders say are meant to restrict and weaken unions, which historically have backed Democratic candidates. Other Republican-led states could pass similar legislation.