BY TIM ROWDEN
“Right-to-work,” minimum wage and the 1% not knowing when to say enough is enough when it comes to squeezing workers is paying off in a surprising way for Missouri unions.
Union membership in the Show-Me state grew last year by 46,000, to 297,000, bucking a national downward trend. Union members now make up 11.1 percent of the state’s workforce, up from 9.4 percent in 2018.
In Illinois, union membership fell by 15,000 last year, reducing the unionization rate from 13.8 percent to 13.6 percent.
Union density nationwide was 10.3 percent last year according to an annual report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Based on a Current Population Survey sample of 60,000 households nationwide, BLS calculated the U.S. had 14.574 million union members last year, down 170,000 (0.2 percent) from 2018.
So what’s going on in Missouri? New construction, obviously, accounts for part of the growth, but local Labor leaders suggest the uptick also reflects the success of the 2018 campaign to defeat Prop A (“right-to-work”), the campaign to pass Proposition B raising the state’s minimum wage, and a backlash to overreach by the Republican-led Missouri Legislature, resulting in a renewed appreciation of unions and what they can do for working people.
“With Prop A, people saw the work that we put into that, they saw our commercials and our members going door-to-door and talking up unions and a lot of people want to get on board with that,” said Pat White, president of the St. Louis Labor Council.
“When you have grocery clerks, plumbers, electricians and members of other trades going door-to-door and at their kids games talking about how good it is to be in a union, I think the message just clicked with a lot of people. What better way to get your union message out there than by talking with a happy union member?”
White also credits outreach to under-represented communities through the St. Louis Building Trades BUD (Building Union Diversity) program, which has added some 200 new members to the union workforce.
The BLS says the average union member earned $1,095 a week last year, compared with $892 for non-union workers.
NATIONAL NUMBERS BELIE ACTIVISM
Despite the slight downturn nationally, the AFL-CIO says the numbers belie the activism, success in community-backed strikes, and record numbers of union members recently elected to public office.
Successful teacher strikes, the successful GM strike by 50,000 United Auto Workers and the successful strike for better pay, health care and working conditions of 31,000 United Food and Commercial Workers against Stop ’n Shop supermarkets in New England all reflect a changing view of unions in the public consciousness.
The AFL-CIO is hoping for another win next month, when the U.S. House takes up the Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act – the most-comprehensive pro-worker Labor law reform legislation in decades.
(The Labor Tribune will have more detail on this story in the coming days.)