Wall Street Journal: Marick Masters on organized labor legislation

Years of downsizing at the Detroit car companies have dinged the UAW’s auto-making membership, which stood above 215,000 members last year, or about 28% of the auto-making workforce in the U.S. Union membership overall declined in 2020 along with total U.S. employment, as a result of the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The number of union members fell by 321,000 to 14.3 million in 2020 from 2019, bringing their share of the workforce to 10.8%, the Labor Department said Friday. That proportion was up from the prior year, but down from its recorded peak of 20.1% in 1983, when the department started reporting the data. Lower levels of membership reflect both the declining influence of unions and the obstacles that have made it difficult to build their ranks in recent years, said Marick Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University who studies organized labor. Masters said corporate resistance and a U.S. workforce shifting away from traditionally unionized sectors, like manufacturing, are factors. Even with a sympathetic administration and the potential for new pro-labor legislation, it might not be so easy to bolster union membership, Masters said—or at least not enough to turn the trend around. How do you think organized labor will fare under President Biden? "There is no reason to believe that the dynamics have shifted to create a more favorable environment for unions,” he said, noting the Obama administration made promises similar to Biden’s yet still saw union membership hit record lows.

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