union membership


After documenting the long decline in private sector unionism over the last 50 years, we examine data on NLRB representation elections to determine if changes in the administration of the NLRA during the 1980s reduced the level
of organizing activity and success. While organizing activity sharply declined in
1981 (just before President Reagan's showdown with the air traffic controllers'
union, PATCO), we find little evidence that the changes in the administration of the NLRA later in the decade adversely affected the level of union organizing activity. We then present an accounting framework that decomposes the sharp
decline in the private-sector union membership rate into components due to 1) differential growth rates in employment between the union and nonunion sectors and 2) changes in the union new organization rate (through NLRB-supervised
representation elections). We find that most of the decline in the union membership rate is due to differential employment growth rates and that changes in union organizing activity had relatively little effect. Given that the differential employment growth rates are due largely to broader market and regulatory
forces, we conclude that the prospects are dim for a reversal of the downward
spiral of labor unions based on increased organizing activity.

Year of Publication
Date Published
Publication Language
Citation Key
Western, B., & Farber, H. (2000). Round Up The Usual Suspects: The Decline of Unions in The Private Sector, 1973-1998. Retrieved from http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/dsp01pv63g025h (Original work published April 2000)
Working Papers

We use a demand/supply framework to analyze 1) the decline in union
membership since 1977 in the United States and 2) the difference in
unionization rates between the United States and Canada. We extend earlier
work on these problems by analyzing new data for 1991 from the General Social
Survey and for 1992 from our own household survey on worker preferences for
union representation. When combined with earlier data for 1977 from the
Quality of Employment Survey and for 1984 from a survey conducted for the
AFl-CIO, we are able to decompose changes in unionization into changes in
demand and changes in supply. We also analyze data for 1990 from a survey
conducted for the Canadian Federation of Labor on the preferences of Canadian
workers for union representation.
We find that virtually all of the decline in union membership in the
United States between 1977 and 1991 is due to a decline in worker demand for
union representation. There was almost no change over this period in the
relative supply of union jobs. Additionally, very little of the decline in
unionization in the U.S. can be accounted for by structural shifts in the
composition of the labor force. Next, we find that all of the higher
unionization rate in the U.S. public sector in 1984 can be accounted for by
higher demand for unionization and that there is actually more frustrated
demand for union representation in the public sector. Finally, we
tentatively conclude that the difference in unionization rates between the
U.S. and Canada is accounted for roughly in equal measure by differences in
demand and in supply.

Year of Publication
Date Published
Publication Language
Citation Key
In Employee Representation: Alternatives and Future Directions, Bruce Kaufman and Morris Kleiner, editor s. Industrial Relations Research Association, 1993
Krueger, A., & Farber, H. (1992). Union Membership in the United States: The Decline Continues. Retrieved from http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/dsp01m039k4906 (Original work published August 1992)
Working Papers