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Union density remains historically low — for a reason

By in Press Enterprise on February 1, 2018

By Terry Bowman

The New Year launched full of promise and hope for workers around the country. Very rarely has the workforce witnessed such powerful economic optimism of continued low unemployment and wage growth. Job-killing regulations are going away, families are receiving more of their money in their paychecks, and many companies are paying windfall bonuses.

For organized labor, the future seems stuck in reverse. This was evident in data released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which showed that union membership remains stuck at an all-time historic low of 10.7 percent.

Nowhere is that more evident than in the auto industry, where I’ve worked on the line at Ford Motor Company for over 20 years. In that time, I’ve seen the company prosper and I’ve also seen it struggle — particularly in the wake of the Great Recession in 2009. Fortunately, Ford is well-positioned in the marketplace.

I can’t say the same for the United Autoworkers Union that’s the exclusive representative of me and my fellow employees. The UAW has recently struggled to make gains in the auto industry, which has historically been the union’s lifeblood. It suffered a series of costly organizing losses, most recently at a Nissan plant in Canton, Miss., and at the Fuyao Glass plant outside of Dayton, Ohio. These votes weren’t even close, with workers in both cases rejecting union representation by a 2-to-1 margin. To boost its numbers, the UAW has been forced to turn its attention to graduate students, casino workers, and other less-traditional sectors that now represent roughly 40 percent the union’s membership.

In response to these trends, one industry observer told the Detroit Free Press that the union has “lost its influence and lacks a clear mission.”

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