Labor Union Membership Still Down on Another Labor Day
By Dave Franzman, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- Labor unions across Iowa celebrated the holiday created to honor workers on Labor Day.,
But another Labor Day in Iowa also brought more statistics showing unions are still losing members. U.S. Labor Department statistics show 11.2% percent of U.S. workers belonged to unions in 2012. That figure was 20% just 30 years ago.
In Iowa, the numbers are a bit lower. One in ten Iowa workers belongs to a union in the most recent year compared to one in six in 1983.
It was hard to see specific evidence of the decline at the Hawkeye Labor Council’s annual Labor Day Picnic at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids on Monday. The turnout, 1,500 to 1,700 union members, retirees and families, was about the same as past years.
Rick Moyle, executive director of the Hawkeye Labor Council, said part of the continuing decline in membership may be simply unions are a victim of their own success. Many original union issues like the eight hour day, 40-hour workweek and overtime pay are the norm for all workers, unionized or not.
“That’s what really brought on the labor movement when labor was at its peak. And we think some of those kinds of issues will come back. We’re seeing a lot of those things happening all over the United States again,” Moyle said.
Public sector union members point to what happened in Wisconsin two years ago as an example of adversity creating more potential interest in union membership. The battle between Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the unions did spill over to Iowa in that sense. Public union membership in Iowa has inched up a bit recently—to 34.5% according to those U.S. Labor Department statistics.
Todd Taylor, a Cedar Rapids state representative and AFSCME union rep, said there is a feeling among some Iowa public sector employees that what happened in Wisconsin could happen here. And perhaps it was time to prepare.
“What they’ve seen in other states, they say it’s coming after us. Ohio, Michigan, Oklahoma are examples so they say, hey maybe I want to join a union to make my life better,” Taylor said.
Steve McDonald, a rank and file union member set to retire next year, said he isn’t so worried about himself as he is about younger union members just starting out. He said he has advice for those members who don’t want to see the wages and working conditions won at the bargaining table slip away.
“I say stick together. You can’t go out and do it by yourself. You’re going to have to stick together and go together when you get to the bargaining table,” McDonald said.
Other union members at the annual picnic also noted a recent development that might hold some unionizing possibilities for the future. Last week’s strikes by fast food workers in larger urban areas might be a sign that unionizing industries not normally considered hotbeds of union activity might be one possibility for the future.
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