The rise, fall and potential resurgence of unions in America

Corporations and labor both played a role in the decline of union membership, but the trade policies driving the U.S. economy is the primary culprit, says Marick Masters, a Wayne State University labor expert.

unions in America

United Auto Workers members walk in the Labor Day parade in Detroit, Sept. 2, 2019.

While union membership has continued to decline in recent years, last month saw an increase in momentum for labor movements in Michigan. Both state congressional staffers and nursing home workers continued formal efforts toward unionization, continuing a spike in union worker petition filings nationally this year.

“Treaties like NAFTA and our trade relations with China have cost lots of manufacturing jobs, which have resulted in the decline of unionized workers.” — Marick Masters, Wayne State University


Listen: Why union membership declined in America and how it can return.

 


Guest

Marick Masters is chair of the Department of Finance and chair of the Department of Accounting at Wayne State University’s Mike Ilitch School of Business, as well as an expert on organized labor. He says the structure of the U.S. economy is primarily to blame for the decline of unions in the country.

“I would say the principal blame lies in the structure of the U.S. economy, which is dominated by the wealthy and those who have supported free trade policies, which has led to the exodus and off-shoring of jobs,” says Masters. “Treaties like NAFTA and our trade relations with China have cost lots of manufacturing jobs, which have resulted in the decline of unionized workers.”

“I’d say that if we’re looking to place blame on the unions, it wouldn’t be so much that they did a poor job representing members. In fact, the opposite is probably the case,” continues Masters. “They probably did too good a job in trying to raise wages and raise benefits to where the companies could not remain competitive with the onslaught of international competition with unfair trade rules.”

 

Photo credit: Paul Sancya/AP

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