Retiring the Myth of 'Big Labor'

It has long been a stretch of a political term, and now is just absurd.


As Labor Day approaches, can we finally retire "Big Labor?"

Not the idea, necessarily--just the term, which has long been a stretch of a political term, and now is just absurd.

Let’s look at the numbers: Just 12.3 percent of the overall workforce is unionized, and that’s down slightly from 2008. Overwhelmingly, the union membership is dominated by government workers, 37.4 percent of whom are in organized labor unions. Among full-time, private-sector, wage- and salaried workers, the percentage is just 7.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And despite the fact that many blame the poor economy on the unreasonable demands of labor leaders, things aren’t looking so rosy for workers. Many lost their jobs in this recession, and others have been forced to take pay cuts. Making it even worse is this recent dreary report from the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research & Education Trust, which reports that workers are alone shouldering the burden of increasing health insurance costs. According to the comprehensive report, workers paid on average 14 percent more for health insurance than they did last year, despite the fact that premiums overall went up just 3 percent. The employer share of health insurance costs did not increase.

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Since 2005, the worker portion of health insurance costs has gone up 47 percent, while overall premiums increased 27 percent. Wages, meanwhile, went up 18 percent, on average, during the past five years.

It’s true that organized labor can have amplified influence in campaigns, not just because of the contributions the groups make to candidates, but because their members are invaluable in phone banking and get-out-the-vote efforts. But what does that get them? Labor unions’ priority issue, the Employee Free Choice Act making it easier for unions to organize workplaces, is all but dead in Washington. And this is under a Democratic White House and a Democratic-controlled Congress. Labor Day, meanwhile, retains for the moment only its bare-bones impact: a day off.

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