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Union Membership in the United States

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Several general trends have contributed to the decline of U.S. union membership, including deregulation, foreign competition, lack of individual support, increased right-to-work legislation, and an increasing use of temporary or contingent workers. To some extent, unions may be victims of their own successes. Unions in the United States have historically emphasized helping workers obtain higher wages and benefits, shorter working hours, job security, and safe working conditions from their employers. Some believe that one cause for the decline of unions has been their success in getting those important issues passed into law for everyone. During the past decade, job growth in the United States has been the greatest in states located in the South, the Southwest, and the Rocky Mountains, places traditionally less open to unions and more “employer friendly.” Another geographic issue involves the movement of many low-skill jobs outside the United States. Many manufacturers with heavily unionized U.S. workforces have moved a significant number of low-skill jobs to the Philippines, China, Thailand, and Mexico to take advantage of cheaper labor and fewer employment restrictions. There are growing numbers of white-collar employees such as clerical workers, insurance claims representatives, data input processors, mental health aides, computer technicians, loan officers, auditors, and retail sales workers. Unions have increased efforts to organize white-collar workers because advances in technology have boosted their numbers in the workforce. However, unions have faced challenges in organizing these workers. Unions have historically enjoyed significant success in the public sector. The public sector (federal, state, and local) is the most highly unionized segment of the U.S. workforce, with more than 35% of government workers represented by unions. Local (city and county) government workers have the highest unionization percentage of any group in the U.S. workforce. The continuing losses have led to disagreements among unions about how to fight the decline. A number of unions have devised creative strategies to remain relevant and in the public eye.
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