Workers Must See Through the Union Charade

It seems unionization is contagious, particularly in a city like New York, whose history is deeply intertwined with the American labor movement. Shortly after Amazon workers on Staten Island voted earlier this year to unionize by just 523 votes, workers at another facility on Staten Island rejected the opportunity to form a  second union.

While the recently founded Amazon Labor Union has promised the earth to workers, the economic reality is that labor unions inflict considerably more harm on workers and endanger the economic welfare of those they seek to protect. This fact recognized by Amazon workers who decided against joining ALU. While workers at other facilities across the city and country be tempted to bandwagon against a tech giant, it would be in their best interests to resist such urges and recognize unions do not have the solution to grievances. 

Over the past few decades, labor unions have become increasingly marginal players in American labor, perhaps a reflection of the evolving labor market that has moved away from the factory floor and into modern skyscrapers. In 2021, just 14 million, or 10.3% of wage and salaried workers were members of labor unions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of union members had fallen by 241,000 compared to 2020 and is part of a broader decline in union membership from the 1980s when 20% of workers were members. 

Moreover, union membership is concentrated in just two states, New York and California. As the BLS noted, “about 30 percent of the 14.0 million union members lived in just two states, California at 2.5 million and New York at 1.7 million.” Thirty states and the District of Columbia, on the other hand, “a had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average.” The concentration of union members in just two states offers a clear explanation of why ALU is so heavily focused on New York plants and not other facilities across the country. 

The substantial decline in unionization is unmistakable evidence that workers no longer see organized labor as generating value for them, their careers, or their working lives. The collapse in union membership adds credibility to the notion that labor unions are dinosaurs that have outlived their usefulness in the highly competitive and technologically advanced labor market.  

While labor unions say they can increase wages for workers, the evidence suggests they actively depress wages, leaving workers worse off financially.

Back in 2016, The American Action Forum found “statistically significant evidence that an increase in a state’s union membership rate is associated with a decrease in the growth rate of total wage earnings for all workers in that state and particularly for those in small- and medium-size business establishments.” 

AAF also found that “For all workers, a one-percentage-point increase in the union membership rate is associated with a 0.20 percentage point decline in the total wage earnings growth rate.” 

The financial picture for labor unions is bleaker when workers factor in annual dues. Studies have suggested that the average cost of union membership is around $400 per year. While this may seem an insignificant amount to most, for hourly workers and those on low incomes, this $400 could mean the difference between being able to afford essentials and sinking further into economic instability.

The data is clear: labor unions not only depress workers’ wages but also make it harder for them to make ends meet.  

Labor unions also depress job creation, making it harder for workers to find jobs or change positions. Studies have routinely shown that rather than creating jobs, as labor organizers claim, unions lower employment “between 5 and 10 percent.” The loss in jobs is attributable to unions increasing costs for businesses, making it harder for them to either grow or maintain current staffing levels. 

With fewer jobs available, workers will have fewer opportunities to either enter the workforce or seek opportunities elsewhere and grow their careers. 

For consumers, increased labor costs also mean fewer goods and services as companies have less money to invest in developing new and innovative products. 

With unions flexing their muscles both in New York and across the country, there is a real risk that such influence could harm workers in the longer term by depressing wages and career opportunities. While labor organizers will never admit to this reality, workers must see through the charade and vote in their interests, not the interests of unions. Workers in Staten Island were courageous to resist such temptations, others must be the same.

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