This morning the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics released new figures for union membership rates in 2010. Their figures show that union membership continued its downward trend as the number of union members dropped to 14.7 million, down from 15.3 million in 2009. The overall “rate” of unionization also declined as only 11.9 percent of all workers were members of a labor union in 2010.

Last year’s figures showed that for the first time more union members were employed by government in the public sector than by private sector employers. This dynamic continued in 2010 as 52 percent of all union members were public sector employees.

So what does this mean?

  • It’s clear that fewer and fewer American workers feel the need to join labor unions. These figures help to explain why labor leaders have been so adamant in their efforts to change U.S. labor law in order to give union organizers greater influence. In previous years these efforts were marked by union support for legislation like “card check” but union leaders and their allies in Washington are now more focused on using executive branch actions like regulations and NLRB cases to change the rules.
  • In recent years, we’ve seen Big Labor turn increasingly leftward, promoting a “progressive” political and social agenda that has little do with jobs creation and economic growth. By and large, that’s a result of the public sector unions and their leadership trained in government and politics, not on the factory floor. The continuing rise in public sector unions means that fewer union leaders will be engaged with the private sector (manufacturing) economy, which ultimately pays for all the government union jobs. Union leaders have been seeking numerous opportunities to expand the size of government – which would ultimately lead to more public sector employees, which in turn would boost union members.

Policymakers should focus their efforts on developing policies that enable employers to create jobs, rather than seeking ways to prop up union membership by changing U.S. labor laws.

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