Labor Unions
What do you think of when you hear the phrase "labor unions?" Most
people associate a negative connotation with labor unions. They think that labor
unions are the only cause of strikes and work stoppages. Most think that people
in unions are greedy and will do anything to get more money. Others swear by
their unions, saying that their employers would take advantage of them if they
didn’t organize their unions. However as we prepare to enter the new
millennium, labor unions are decreasing in size. Let’s look at some of
reasons. First, the numbers are unmistakable. At the end of 1997, when the most
recent count was made, only 14.1% of workers belonged to unions, the lowest
percentage since 1936 (Gross 23). This is a dramatic decrease from when unions
were at their height at the end of World War II when 35.3% of Americans were in
unions (Galenson 13). One cause of this fall of union membership is the decline
of manufacturing in America and the transfer of much manufacturing work over
seas (Gross 24). Because of advances in technology and labor saving innovations,
fewer people are required to make steel and assembler automobiles. As a result,
only 16.1% of U.S. workers now work in factories, down from 22.8% twenty years
ago (Aronwitz 2). There has also been a decrease in size of the large
corporations, which in the past usually signed industry-wide contracts to
produce a particular item. The latest figures show that the 800 largest firms
employed 17% of the total workforce, down from 25.7% twenty years ago (Aronwitz

3). Many of these companies have their work done abroad. Nike does not make a
single shoe in the United States and many insurance companies are having
paperwork processed over seas (Hacker 45). At home corporate jobs are frequently
assigned to temporary workers, who are often classified as "independent
contractors" and are not very likely to join unions. Indeed, there are
fewer long-term jobs, something union seniority could once guarantee. Last year,
among men aged forty to forty-five, only 39.1% had worked ten or more years at
their current job, compared with 51.1 percent in 1983 (Galenson 27). So, one
might ask, what caused this to happen? At some point in the 1980s, the balance
of power shifted against labor unions. Some say the defining moment was in 1981,
when then-U.S. president Ronald Reagan forced an end to the bitter air traffic
controllers\' strike. Others point to the 1985 victory of then-British Prime

Minister Margaret Thatcher over striking coal miners (Gross 239). Whatever the
reason, unions are trying to make a comeback. There are several strategies that
unions have devised to return to their former glory. Unions have adopted a more
lenient attitude towards management, reducing the number of strikes to record
lows in the 1980s and early 90s, and attempting to negotiate contracts providing
job security for members (Gross 278). Unions have also placed greater emphasis
on organizing drives for new members. Although unions have been very successful
in organizing government employees, they have been less successful with
recruiting office workers in the rapidly expanding services sector. However,
during the last two decades, the wage advantage for unionized workers with
private jobs has fallen by 44.1 percent, although the public sector has
increased by 9.5 percent (Maguire 20). Currently, 41.9% of union members are
from the public sector. Among the most strongly unionized occupations are
firefighters (71.6%), flight attendants (69.4%), and high school teachers
(56.1%). Only 28.6 percent of coal miners belong to unions and only 19.5% of
truck drivers (Hacker 47). Despite all of the downsides of unions they do have
their benefits. Here are a few examples of salaries secured through collective
bargaining by highly trained professionals: Pilots with only fifteen years of
service at Northwest, American, United, and US Airways now earn on average over
$175,000 a year. Professors at New York City University can now get as much as
$101,655 for twenty-eight weeks of teaching. Under the current National

Basketball Association contract, first year players—some of them right out of
high school—will start at $300,000 (Hacker 48). The recent NBA lockout has
shaped many peoples’ opinions on labor unions. Most people, myself included,
thought that it was ridiculous for these people to be having a labor dispute.

The players are already making an insane amount of money and the owners are
millionaires themselves looking to add to their pocketbooks also. The real
losers in this battle are the fans who love the game. They cannot see their
favorite players in action because of this dispute. This just goes to show you
that labor markets affect