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By Ben Penn
Eight of the largest 10 unions by membership lost between 4,000 and 99,000 members in 2012 from the prior year, continuing this decade's steady decline, according to the unions' annual reports filed with the Labor Department between Sept. 27, 2012, and April 1, 2013.
The unions with the steepest one-year membership drop-offs were the National Education Association (down 99,175 to 3.1 million), International Brotherhood of Teamsters (51,924 to 1.3 million), and Service Employees International Union (44,960 to 1.9 million), based on their LM-2 forms filed with DOL's Office of Labor-Management Standards.
DOL requires large unions to report financial information annually in the LM-2 form.
Large unions' falling memberships were consistent with DOL's 2012 union members report, which showed there were 15.9 million workers represented by unions last year, 368,000 fewer than a year earlier (15 DLR AA-1, 1/23/13).
Seven of the 10 unions now have suffered slumping enrollment for three consecutive years, most notably the Laborers International Union of North America, whose membership declined by 9.8 percent from 2009, or 61,540 fewer members, to a 2012 total of 571,065.
Most of the large unions filed LM-2s within the last month that reflected the period of Jan. 1, 2012, to Dec. 31, 2012, with the exception of NEA--which filed last November for the period from September 2011 to August 2012--and the American Federation of Teachers and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers--which both filed in September for the period July 2011 to June 2012.
NEA, which remained the largest overall union in the country, pointed to tremendous job losses in the public sector, particularly among those employed in educational services, as the reason for its membership decline.
“This is due in part to deep budget cuts and poor choices made by politicians, who have targeted public sector unions in recent years,” an NEA spokeswoman told BNA April 11. NEA also provided more recent figures covering all of 2012 that showed membership shrunk by 5,427 in the final four months of 2012 after it submitted its LM-2.
IBT, whose membership fell by the largest rate in 2012--a 4.0 percent decrease from the previous year--declined to comment.
As of press time, a request to SEIU's communications department was not answered.
The United Food and Commercial Workers attributed much of last year's 13,102-member decline to job losses at two grocery store chains. “A few chains of our union representatives have closed stores, downsized, or they're not staffing up to the level we'd like them to,” Jill Cashen, a UFCW spokeswoman, said April 9.
UFCW lost members from the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. after the grocer was forced to close stores upon coming out of bankruptcy (58 DLR A-4, 3/26/12), as well as from closures of Albertson's LLC stores, Cashen said. Further, UFCW lost members from a major meatpacking plant that closed last year in Cactus, Texas, as a result of a drought.
Declining membership at LIUNA last year (by 8,422 to 571,065) was a continued symptom of the recession's aftermath, Rich Greer, Laborers' spokesman, said April 8.
“We lost significant membership in the construction sector due to the economic downtown,” Greer said.
The International Association of Machinists, which lost 4,033 members to bring the total to 576,947, pointed to globalization's weakening of the American manufacturing sector.
“There's no single closure or layoff or election that accounts for the decrease,” Frank Larkin, IAM spokesman, said April 9.
“I think the decrease is more likely a reflection of the steady erosion of manufacturing jobs around the country, and that's a trend that's bound to continue so long as companies chase the lowest wages and working conditions around the globe,” Larkin said.
IAM's losses in 2012 came despite an organizing win that led to 7,500 additional members from Continental Airlines stemming from its merger with United Airlines, Larkin added. IAM added passenger service and reservation agents in an election held in March 2012 among the post-merger United Airlines workforce (45 DLR A-13, 3/7/12). They were pre-merger Continental workers who were unrepresented. IAM already represented almost 9,000 pre-merger United workers.
While factors such as globalization, structural changes to the economy, and a decline of manufacturing are often cited as the reason for America's steady decline in union membership over the past few decades, employers' increasing aggression towards labor organizing also deserves blame, said Paul Clark, a professor at Penn State University.
“Employers have had a very systematic effort to weaken the labor movement,” said Clark, who heads Penn State's department of labor studies and employment relations. “Politically, efforts to strengthen labor laws have gone nowhere. I think employers have really taken advantage of a weak legal framework.”
Further, despite some progress over the last 10 years, many unions still struggle to adapt by recognizing nontraditional workers, such as the contingent and immigrant workforces, Clark added.
The few large unions that did experience slight growth in 2012 attributed the increase to a rededication to organizing.
For instance, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers could not point to a single victory for its 4,978 additional members last year, but did credit a 2011 strategic decision to devote more resources to organizing, leading to more highly trained field organizers, IBEW spokesman Jim Spellane said April 10.
“The delegates at our 2011 convention recognized we had to be more aggressive in how we try to grow, because that's the only way we can counteract the impact of the recession,” he said.
The new strategy got Clark's attention, who praised IBEW for embracing the concept of highlighting the value added from joining a union. “The IBEW is making an effort to make sure their electricians are trained to the highest levels, and then they're letting contractors and the public know this,” Clark said.
The United Steelworkers, the only other union among the top 10 to increase 2012 enrollment (by 7,100 to 614,054), informed its local leaders in the past two years that internal organizing of employees of existing units who are not members must become more of a priority, said Mike Yoffee, organizing director at USW.
The United Auto Workers, the 13th largest union, also increased membership last year by 1,794 members to 382,513 through a focus on organizing and rehiring in the auto industry (61 DLR A-8, 3/29/13).
By Ben Penn
The LM-2 filings are available on the OLMS website at http://www.union-reports.dol.gov.
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