On this Labor Day, we reflect on the declining percentages of private sector workers who are members of labor unions in New York State.
In the last 20 years in our state, the percentage of private sector workers who are members of labor unions has declined from 19% to 14%. The overall percentage of workers, including both the private and public sectors, declined from 29% to 24% during the same 20 year period, a period in which the percentage of union workers in the public sector rose to mask some of the private sector decline.
Increasing Challenges and a Republican Party Declaring War
In New York State, as well as all over the United States, labor unions are facing growing challenges:
"Organized labor's inability to twist arms of Democratic allies such as
California Governor Jerry Brown and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in recent
pension fights has observers questioning whether it can deliver Michigan,
Wisconsin or Ohio -- all battleground states run by Republican governors -- to
the Democrats this fall.
The Republicans, who wrapped up their nominating convention on Thursday,
produced a platform more hostile to organized labor than any they have put
forward in modern history, said Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the
left-leaning Century Foundation.
The platform calls for a national "right-to-work" law, a business-friendly,
anti-labor measure that would prohibit union contracts from requiring workers to
pay dues or other fees to the union.
In the 27 states without right-to-work laws, employees in union-represented
workplaces are required to pay dues and fees.
The Republican platform also drops language from previous party planks that
endorsed workers' right to unionize and characterizes collective bargaining by
public employees as a threat to state and local government finances.
'It's a declaration of war on labor,' Kahlenberg said."
Cuomo and NYS Public Sector Unions
Earlier this year, Governor Cuomo signed legislation reducing future pension costs related to New York State public sector unions. The changes were viewed as a defeat for labor unions, but the editorial pages cheered Cuomo's approach as bringing New York State's pension benefits in line with other states.
In response to this perceived defeat for unions, nearly all of New York City's unions are looking to gather their resources to support one Mayoral candidate in 2013. Because New York City Council Speaker (and candidate for Mayor) Christine Quinn supported the reduced pension benefits, the union coalition is likely to support Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer or one of the other candidates.
After so many great accomplishments for the labor union movement, let us hope that our unions will continue to improve lives for workers in our communities.