Labor Unions

Don't Expect Unions To Make a Comeback

Despite the recent win against Amazon and Joe Biden's full backing, Big Labor is fading because workers are making progress without unions.

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Big Labor supporters like President Joe Biden are cheering the first successful vote to unionize workers at an Amazon facility, in this case, an 8,000-worker warehouse in Staten Island, New York. The effort was spearheaded by a couple of best friends who built support on TikTok, among other places. "Amazon, here we come," promised the president at a recent union rally.

The New York Times gleefully called it "one of the most significant labor victories in a generation" and indicative of "an era of rising worker power." Former Times labor reporter Steven Greenhouse called it "by far the biggest, beating-the-odds David versus Goliath unionization win I've seen" in 25 years of reporting.

But the Staten Island story is overshadowed by other colossal unionization failures, including attempts to organize other Amazon warehouses, such as in Bessemer, Alabama, where last year 71 percent voted against joining the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union, which lost about a quarter of its members from 2002 to 2019.

It's proven so hard for unions to gain a toehold at Amazon because it's actually a pretty good place to work. If we are indeed in a time of "rising worker power," that's because of incredibly low unemployment rates and historically high job vacancies giving the rank and file more leverage than ever to negotiate more pay and better conditions.

For its part, Amazon has consistently increased its wages and benefits to attract and retain workers, especially during the pandemic, when it went on a hiring spree. It set a minimum wage of $15 an hour back in 2018 and last year boosted its starting wage to $18, while also offering health insurance, reimbursement for college courses, and signing bonuses of up to $3,000More than anything else, those sorts of perks explain the overwhelming failure of unionization efforts. For the second year in a row, LinkedIn named Amazon the top company to work at if you want to "grow your career."

It's not just Amazon, either. The main reason that unions in the private sector have been fading for decades isn't that there are union-busting Pinkertons terrorizing organizers but because of the changing nature of work and the willingness of employers to offer better terms. Unions flourished during the era of assembly lines and standardization, when schedules were rigid and outputs, employees, and even customers were expected to be identical. As everything in our lives becomes more personalized, it only makes sense unions would fade, which is exactly what's happened.

In 2021, just 6 percent of private sector workers were unionized, down from 17 percent in 1983. Unions are even losing clout in the public sector. After peaking at 39 percent in 1994, unionization among federal, state, and local employees is down to 34 percent and shows little sign of turning around.

If K-12 teachers are any indication, the decline is explained by unions' inability to increase starting salaries. While unions such as the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers successfully lobby for health insurance and retirement benefits, the inflation-adjusted average starting salaries for teachers have actually declined from a decade ago. Why keep paying dues to a union that isn't delivering to younger teachers who are more interested in money now rather than promises down the road?

Labor organizers are turning to the federal government for help in strong-arming workers to rejoin their ranks. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would abolish "right to work" laws that keep unions from forcing nonmembers to pay dues in 27 states. But the PRO Act, which would reclassify millions of independent contractors as employees, has no chance of passing an evenly divided Senate, especially in a midterm election year where the Democrats are already expected to lose big in both houses.

Biden can come after Amazon, Starbucks, and any other public or private sector employer all he wants, but it's unlikely he—or any other politician or labor organizer—is going to be able to turn around a decadeslong decline in union membership.

The biggest problem for unions, it turns out, is that workers are making real progress without them.

Written and Narrated by Nick Gillespie. Edited by Regan Taylor.

Photo Credits: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Newscom; Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire CGW/Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire/Newscom; Karla Ann Cote/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Paul Weaver/Sipa USA/Newscom; Frances M. Roberts/Newscom; Ron Adar / M10s / SplashNews/Newscom; Brian Cassella/TNS/Newscom; Aleksander Kalka/ZUMAPRESS/Newscom; Sam Simmonds/Polaris/Newscom; Toby Scott / SOPA Images/Sipa US/Newscom; US Senate TV via CNP / MEGA / Newscom

Music Credit: "Regain Your Power," by Ricardo Tobar via Artlist.

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  1. I wonder how long it will be until Amazon shuts that warehouse down.

    1. I bet that depends on how fast they could build out the other warehouses (Queens, Newark) in the area.

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    2. They should leave it there, and tell their other workers, "See, we're treating you better than the union workers' leaders, and you don't have to cough up dues."

      1. ^this.

        Especially as AFL-CIO negotiates ways to pay union members sub-minimum wages while advocating for increases.

        1. The dirty secret of all Unions is that seniority is everything. If you have been there for years you have great benefits. But when the Company doesn't meet goals? Well then the first target is new employees. Seniors get the bennies, and pensions, and flush vacation hours. But the newbies get to work hard so that those bennies are paid.

          If there is one thing Libertarians could do to destroy the Unions, it is to show just how bullshit the Union promise is. I had a buddy at DHL who joined the union. He was incredibly bitter that guys 10 years senior sat on their asses, while he worked his ass off. But he stayed loyal because he foolishly figured that in 10 years he would get the same treatment. But it ain't happening. The key goal is showing these people that the grift was the Union, and only the union that sold them these ponzi schemes.

          1. The old joke has long been that after a number of years the youngsters begin to see the advantages of the seniority system.

      2. In the "crimes against workers" column, my experience has been that AFL-CIO views various employer policies in this order of decreasing severity of viciousness:

        1) Non-union workers being treated fairly by employers
        2) Secret-ballot voting over unionization
        3) "union busting" activities which are implicitly illegal
        4) "union busting" activities which are explicitly illegal
        5) failing to establish a "closed shop" where the union bosses control access to jobs
        6) failing to force non-members to pay "agency fees", which are usually equal to union dues despite allegedly not including political money and not providing access to vote in union matters (meaning that vote has literally no value according to the union)
        7) use of contract/freelance workers who aren't allowed to organize, even when those workers prefer such terms
        8) non-union workers being treated unfairly by employers
        9) union workers losing benefits in exchange for perks given to union "leadership" such as super-seniority (often via union-negotiated "give-backs")
        10) union workers being treated unfairly by employers

    3. If it isnt a closed shop it isnt a problem. The times unionization becomes an issue is when it forces a closed shop that only hires union workers.

    4. Here are some workers and customers who encountered one of the real enemies of their paychecks, benefits, and bonuses and--instead of turning to Government or Cronyist Unions--they took matters into their own hands!

      Workers fight back against thief at Charlotte Family Dollar
      https://youtu.be/z8d3KNI9-_Y

      These workers and customers got sick and tired of not having nice things because of looting thugs and had a spontaneous uprising against thuggery!

      The Realz Revolution was televised! Watch, Share, Wash, Rinse, Repeat, Learn, Do, Take Heart, and Enjoy! Coming Soon To A Town Near You!

        1. You'll be as dumb as fuck if you try a five-finger discount against these workers. And not just them. This video and it's practice will go viral as inflation, energy shortages, and supply chain blockages take their toll. Oh! Happy Day when it does too!

  2. If your career aspiration is to be a replaceable worker drone threatening walkouts: good luck!

  3. End public unions.

  4. One of my first jobs was working at a unionized grocery store, we got paid less and had worse benefits than all the competing grocery stores in the area (except the one other union store) because all the other stores didn't want their employees unionizing.

    1. That argument actually demonstrates the benefit of unions. Non-union employees benefitted due to pressure from the (competitive) effort to stave off unionization.

      1. But it's like the leverage someone with a match has among a group of people standing in a pool of gasoline. The threat is to make the whole enterprise less lucrative — less so for both the employers and the employees — and therefore works only as a threat, not in its execution.

      2. I've mentioned before that unions are a lot like lawyers. When you need one you need one, and the threat of them is useful. However, if you can get things done without one, you are always better off

  5. Know what else won't be making a comeback? Ed's Buck wild LGBTQ+ parties, where well-heeled Democrats such as frequent flyer Adam Schiff of California would go for a chance to drug, rape and occasionally murder young black men.

    https://nypost.com/2022/04/14/hollywood-dem-donor-ed-buck-sentenced-to-30-years-for-meth-ods/

  6. Author takes a limited perspective. Take a look at increasing unionization of colleges, professions of arts and contract labour. While yes, salaried occupations have seen a decline, the power and numbers of unions and their power has undoubtedly increased with millenials

  7. What a pile this piece is.

    "incredibly low unemployment rates and historically high job vacancies giving the rank and file more leverage than ever to negotiate more pay and better conditions."

    Companies like amazon may offer better pay and maybe better conditions to attract workers when they are in scare supply, but there are no negotiations whatsoever. Any offer of employment is is still a take-it-or-leave-it adhesion style offer. And if the supply of workers changes, the pay and conditions can be lost in an instant.

    " Unions flourished during the era of assembly lines and standardization, when schedules were rigid and outputs, employees, and even customers were expected to be identical."

    Amazon micro-manages worker time down to the second. Expected outputs are more rigid than they were back in the assembly line days, because now technology allows intimate monitoring and constant communication.

    1. "Any offer of employment is is still a take-it-or-leave-it adhesion style offer. And if the supply of workers changes, the pay and conditions can be lost in an instant."

      Which is different from the vast majority of other jobs how?

      And yes, you could lose that pay rise or benefit of conditions change - but if you're unionized the company can't suddenly offer more to retain good workers when conditions are good and you just get laid off instead of losing out on a pay rise when things turn sour.

      1. It isn't different than the vast majority of jobs where the only leverage the typical worker has is as an individual, which is hardly any leverage at all, unless the individual is a star athlete or actor.

        Amazon can acquire company after company, even through hostile methods where the target company doesn't want to be acquired, to gain more and more market power, leverage and collective mass, and libertarians say that is great and should never be interfered with.

        But the primary method that the average hoi polloi worker has to gain comparable leverage is through some sort of collective.

        Otherwise the power balance is no balance at all. Even to the extent that there is some sort of "worker power" (as the piece mentions), it is only because, collectively, there aren't enough workers.

        But to the extent that such worker shortage gives any individual worker more leverage or market power, libertarians don't like that either and just want to increase the number of workers by importing them.

        1. "It isn't different than the vast majority of jobs where the only leverage the typical worker has is as an individual, which is hardly any leverage at all, unless the individual is a star athlete or actor..."

          You should recognize that you are
          Full
          Of
          Shit
          If you were capable of thinking.

        2. It isn't different than the vast majority of jobs where the only leverage the typical worker has is as an individual, which is hardly any leverage at all, unless the individual is a star athlete or actor.

          Unless you're talking about low skill labor, this premise is bullshit. Yes, finding another burger flipper is generally so easy that companies won't fight to retain existing burger flippers, because just about anyone can flip burgers. But once you start getting into trade skills or other specialized areas of expertise, workers who have both a good base of knowledge and a good work ethic become too valuable for companies to easily replace. This means the worker begins to have leverage.

          So if you're a lazy piece of shit with no marketable skills, it will be tough to land that six figure do-nothing gig unless maybe your dad is a powerful politician.

          1. "...So if you're a lazy piece of shit with no marketable skills,.."

            You know Doug, do you?

        3. "But the primary method that the average hoi polloi worker has to gain comparable leverage is through some sort of collective."

          This is utterly completely false and should be called out forever.

          Workers can educate themselves and move up, save their money and build their own business on the side (I did both)...

          There are many many ways for workers to leverage their value, but they must first value THEMSELVES enough to learn how to increase their social value, usually by learning a trade.

          The only workers who have no options are those who are too lazy to explore them.

        4. What’s the right power balance? One could argue that if you give workers the right to bargain collectively, you should also give companies the same right. Are you in favor of that? If not, why not?

          1. I agree. In fact let's ban both capital and labor from acting collectively. Workers will give up unions and let's see, capital can give up partnerships, corporations, joint ventures, banks and however many other ways capital acts collectively. If you want to make money do it yourself without any help, right

    2. And if the supply of workers changes, the pay and conditions can be lost in an instant.

      Build your own Amazon.

    3. Life is a take-it-or-leave-it, pay-as-you-go deal.

      If your daddy didn't teach you that, bummer. You may have to learn the next lesson the hard way.

      Here it is.

      The universe is hostile. It doesn't feel pity or remorse or fear and your human life has exactly as much value as YOU give it.

      You can deal with that however you choose but if you expect to cry to other people to feed your sorry ass, expect a seat under someone's toilet, 'cause there ain't no free lunch worth eating.

      If you wanna eat like a human you gotta get up and go get food like a man. If you don't wanna eat, move to Portland, buy some skinny jeans, wrap your mullett into a manbun, slam some H and put yourself out of our misery.

      1. If you want points for laying down and crying go play soccer

      2. Work ethic is a ruse to effect maximum effort by the masses, perpetrated by those who generally don't do any work at all.

        1. Piles of lefty shit like you assume you have no responsibility at all. And you are called on your idiocy and bullshit.
          Fuck off and die, asshole.

        2. You are the only one here talking any sense among these boot lickers.

          Isn't it ironic the oligarch organizes into political parties, political donation groups, trade groups, Family Office Forum, lobbying groups, etc.? They meet in public like Davos and surely in private. They see the power of organizing and they sure as hell don't want workers recognizing that power. Workers have ALL the power if they choose to exercise it. If the top 20 Amazon execs, The CEO, CFO, CTO, et. Al, died in a plane crash tomorrow Amazon keeps on humming until those folks are replaced. If all the hourly workers walked out tomorrow Amazon is dead as a doornail. So who has the power?

          Union workers make better wages with better benefits. End of facts.

          1. "You are the only one here talking any sense among these boot lickers."

            As slimy pieces of lefty shit, you and the asshole heffernan are the only ones defending a lack of responsibility here.
            Could that be a result of stupidity, or perhaps simple lefty shit immaturity?
            Fuck off and die, asshole.

          2. "Workers have ALL the power if they choose to exercise it."
            Yep; So why doesn't the workers go make their own Amazon???

            What's the point of Ganging up together to try and ... ----FORCE someone else to provide for them---- ... what they want if it has nothing to do with those CEO, CFO, et.? Just go build their own Amazon... MORE competition is always a plus and a necessary component of any functional free-market.

          3. "Workers have ALL the power if they choose to exercise it. If the top 20 Amazon execs, The CEO, CFO, CTO, et. Al, died in a plane crash tomorrow Amazon keeps on humming until those folks are replaced. If all the hourly workers walked out tomorrow Amazon is dead as a doornail. So who has the power?"

            Workers do... Obviously.

            So, why don't the organize and walk out?

            Because it would hose the workers and their families to do so...

            Workers know a good deal when they have it and working at Amazon sounds like a pretty good deal.

            Union workers and government employees ultimately kill and eat the goose that lays the golden egg while the rest of the world simply breeds more geese to lay more golden eggs.

          4. Robots can't replace you unskilled faggots soon enough. The only bootlickers here are you retards clamoring for the state to enforce your whims at gunpoint.

        3. A solid work ethic meaning you finish the things that you start is the single fastest path to self respect and courage.

          Self respect and courage are the two most attractive features in a potential partner.

          Been a while there, Doug?

        4. So true, one should put minimal effort in for maximum pay, and be sure to pay union dues on time. After all, hard labor or effort has never accomplished a thing throughout history.

      3. "If your daddy didn't teach you that, bummer."

        Most dads are useless. Kids generally have better ethics than their parents.

        "You can deal with that however you choose but if you expect to cry to other people to feed your sorry ass, expect a seat under someone's toilet, 'cause there ain't no free lunch worth eating."

        Or you could team up with others around you and extract by force what you couldn't extract individually. Strength in number - a key survival strategy amongst humans.

        So sure - you go ahead and play the lone strongman. Tomorrow you'll meet a tribe of people who will take YOUR lunch, and then YOU'LL be the one crying.

        Sorry buddy. Life is hard. Go unionize.

        1. My buddies are all infantry vets.

          Union buddies run because unions are just a collection of cowards who couldn't make do.

          My friends are a collection of men who were accomplished before we served.

          I'll put 3 combat vets vs 100 union man-boys any day.

          1. Numbers win. 100 cowards will beat your 3 buddies any day of the week.

            Learn to survive. Macho idiots die out.

            1. 100 cowards will run the fuck away because they're cowards.

              Then they'll go crying to the government and hide behind the jackboots while crying fascism.

              1. Cowards, by definition, want to live. And if the only way for cowards to live is to beat 3 measly bodies, then that's what they're going to do.

                Heroes, on the other hand, are the ones that die out of the gene pool.

        2. Good story brah, the tribe actually has to be smart which isn't what I've seen in action.

    4. "What a pile this piece is."

      What a piece of shit you are.
      Fuck off and die; the world deserves better than shitbags like you.

  8. Oh, unions will 'come back'; increase government employment and the desire of D pols to buy votes with taxpayer money and the SEIU management is farting through silk undies!

  9. Next up;
    Union Gangs wielding those Gov-Guns to FORCE people to join their club-house party. Why yes; not even two days ago Reason reported on Biden's plans to throw those Gov-Guns into Unions... Titled "The Big Labor President".. Obviously the Nazi-Regime cannot afford to lose party-pals.. Bring out the Gov-Guns!!

  10. Labor unions formed on 2 principles, one empirically false, the other true but pernicious.

    The false principle is that the owners of capital, being relatively few, are thereby in a better bargaining position for their share of profits of an enterprise compared to employees, who are relatively many. The bargaining position of employees could therefore be increased by cartelizing them into fewer actors. This would rectify an existing imbalance in the distribution of profit between employers and employees. This notion was never actually correct, but it took a long time to demonstrate that it was false by the numbers.

    The other principle is that if those workers who are organized can exclude from employment those who are not members of the organization, and can keep their numbers low, they can increase their relative value. This does not help "labor" as a sector overall, but only the privileged at the expense of the unprivileged, and by making production more expensive, lowers its value to all.

    In the long run the privilege is broken, albeit at some cost. So now their raison d'etre is neither of the principles they were initially organized on, but political bloc voting and organized bribery, as exemplified by their persistence among government employees.

  11. With about 6% of private sector workers being in a union, it’s hard to see that it could get much lower (though I read somewhere that only about 4% of millennials are in unions), so it will probably just bounce around for now on. Every union win will be hailed as the start of a comeback; every time workers vote against joining the union it will be hailed as a catastrophe.

  12. Unions are the only known mechanism for tilting the balance of power in the workplace in favor of workers. An actual free society would let workers unionize first of all, and an advanced free society would offer up promises and incentives to allow for unionization the same way it offers up promises and incentives to be a business owner.

    We will never know the true measure of the damage Reaganism did to the world. Never put an astrologer in charge of complex societies.

    1. I will agree, to a point. However, you are omitting several other factors.

      The first is competition. There is a limited supply of workers, and therefore companies must compete for this limited supply by offering better conditions and pay. In the gilded age, labor was plentiful and corporations few. In this day and age, the opposite is often true. Skilled workers are rare and valuable (it's estimated a chemical company will spend a million dollars training an operator over the course of their career), and retention of your employees is often paramount. Thus, companies have every reason to not exploit labor.

      The second is regulation. Many of the initial labor gains were institutionalized as regulation and law. The existence of OSHA and labor regulators obviate many of the initial purposes of unions. A boss cannot simply fail to pay employees, miscalculate hours, or operate dangerously. Why do you need a union when you can go to the police?

      Finally, there is the fact that the unions too are corporations, inclined to exploit workers if they can. As they currently exist, unions are not "workers united" any more than companies are. Giving unions too much power will lead to the employees being exploited just as much and often in even more dysfunctional ways than the company alone, as the incentives are more perverse, since the union is not concerned with my first point.

      1. Forget it, Ben. It's Tonytown.

      2. That's why public sector unions are needed. For-profit employers have incentives to not let their bosses abuse their underlings. The Postal Service does not, which means they do. They need their union to counteract such abuses. It doesn't always succeed, but at least the union gives them a chance.

        1. Commie-Mail requires Commie-Labor Unions?
          Commie-Education requires a Commie-Teachers Union too?
          Commie-Police requires a Commie-Police Union too?

          Here we go again with [WE] mobs of Gangland Gov-Gun Politics.
          By far the *WORST* change in the USA is love for those Gov-Guns.
          Course an unlimited democracy is exactly that... Endless battles over who gets to pack those [WE] mob guns of limitless FORCE.

          Once upon a time Gov-Gun usage had limits and "The People" had Individual Liberty and Justice.

      3. "The second is regulation. Many of the initial labor gains were institutionalized as regulation and law."

        The Nazi-Regime initiated "Labor Unions" packing Gov-Guns of FORCE and **everyone** was automatically required to be part of the Democratic 'Slave-Labor' "Unions".

        Isn't it ironic how the more [WE] mobs insist BIG corporate monopolies are a threat to equality and put more Gov-Gun FORCE behind the workers the BIGGER and the more MONOPOLIZED the corporate world becomes.

        It's all because of those Nazi-Guns of Force... The only *real* monopolizing force...

  13. oh dear....I guess the Koch brothers don't like unions very much, do they?

    1. True, the Kochs always preferred free enterprise over fascism.

  14. Labor organizers are turning to the federal government for help in strong-arming workers to rejoin their ranks.

    Labor Unions, like Twitter, Facebook and Google are private organizations...

  15. I'm putting my ear to the ground to hear the philosophical stampede to the other side of "It's a private company" when Amazon closes this warehouse.

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