The Corner

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Re: Competition and Unions


Ramesh, the competitive imbalance between unionized and non-unionized private-sector employers may be the chief reason the number of unionized private-sector workers has plummeted from approximately 35 percent in 1955 to approximately 7.5 percent today, but there are several other reasons that won’t be rectified by the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act.

For example, the proliferation of employment laws over the last 50 years has marginalized the ostensible need for union representation to protect employee interests. Why pay $500 in union dues for protections that the EEOC, OSHA, and the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor provide for “free”? (It’s also arguable that public-sector union growth would be even more robust if the current array of employment protections were unavailable; but clearly, the public sector’s insulation from competitive pressures is the primary reason unionized public employment continues to grow while unionized private employment shrinks).

Moreover, the remedies available to employees under many state and federal employment statutes far exceed those under the typical collective bargaining agreement or under the National Labor Relations Act. Common law and statutory erosions of the employment-at-will doctrine have lessened the perceived need for a union safety net.

Competition (both domestic and foreign), the explosion of employment laws and a decline in union organizational activity have resulted in a steep decline in private-sector union participation that shows no signs of abating.