published Monday, September 5th, 2011

Union ranks shrink despite vigorous organizing efforts

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Eight states had union membership rates under 5 percent last year. The states with the lowest share of workers belonging to a union, in order, are:

  1. North Carolina, 3.2 percent
  2. Georgia, 4 percent
  3. Arkansas, 4 percent
  4. Louisiana, 4.3 percent
  5. Mississippi, 4.5 percent
  6. South Carolina, 4.6 percent
  7. Virginia, 4.6 percent
  8. Tennessee, 4.7 percent

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Number of workers belonging to a union in 2010 vs. prior year:

• Tennessee, 4.7 percent, down from 5.1 percent

• Georgia, 4 percent, down from 4.6 percent

• Alabama, 10.1 percent, down from 10.9 percent

• Nationwide, 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

From his downtown Atlanta office, Georgia's top labor leader has seen the flock of construction cranes that once filled the city's skyline go nearly extinct amid the city's worst building slump in decades.

"The cranes we saw everywhere five years ago are gone and, when you are not building, that affects all of the construction trades," Georgia AFL-CIO President Richard Ray said. "We haven't lost hope, but our numbers certainly have been hurt by this recession."

As Americans pause on Labor Day to celebrate the value of work, Ray and other union leaders are struggling to maintain their hold on the construction, manufacturing and other industries where unions once represented most workers.

With the decline of such industries and the rise of nonunion service and professional jobs, the share of workers belonging to labor unions in Tennessee and Georgia fell by nearly half in the past decade. Union members now comprise less than 5 percent of the area's workforce.

Tennessee and Georgia were among only eight U.S. states with under 5 percent of their workforces in some type of labor union, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Labor leaders blame the poor economy, outsourcing of industries and anti-union campaigns by employers for the membership decline across the South.

"Our numbers are down, but organized labor is still a strong force in Tennessee," said Tennessee's new state AFL-CIO president, state Rep. Gary Moore, D-Joelton. "We will continue to press forward and fight for the rights of working men and women."

In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 78 Tennessee workers died in workplace accidents and nearly 150,000 were injured on the job.

"We need to lower those numbers to ensure we have a safer workplace," said Moore, who worked on safety concerns during his 32 years with the Local 140 Firefighters union in Nashville. "Unions have a long history of helping protect workers on the job, and in this economy people need those protections more than ever."

Laws lessen union interest

To some extent, unions have been victims of their own success. Many of the occupational safety requirements, overtime benefits and wage-and-hour protections unions fought for in the past are now the law of the land.

In an economy where workers change jobs more frequently, many are reluctant to pay union dues typically equal to one to three hours of wages a week, especially when many job protections already are written into law.

"Many of the benefits that all workers enjoy wouldn't be here without unions," said Sean Paul Kimball, a business agent for Iron Workers, Local 704, and the new president of the Chattanooga Area Labor Council, a coalition of 15 local labor unions. "It's tough in right-to-work states like Tennessee and Georgia when so many employers bad-mouth unions. But unions give workers a voice and help ensure they have basic benefits and a livable wage."

Kimball said he hopes to reverse the decline in union membership by letting people know the advantages of belonging to a union.

Unions use new tactics

To maintain their membership, Kimball and other union leaders are using new tactics to gain support and organize different types of industries.

The Chattanooga Area Labor Council is not sponsoring a Labor Day rally today, but on Sunday the council marked the weekend celebration with a sermon by Leroy Griffith, pastor at Renaissance Presbyterian Church, on the value of labor.

In addition to getting support from the clergy, some unions are using pickets and demonstrations against businesses that don't use union labor for construction projects or buy products from nonunion companies.

The Mid-South Carpenters Regional Council, for instance, is picketing outside Lowe's and Best Buy stores with banners urging "shame on Whirlpool appliances for desecration of the American Way of Life."

The pickets stem from a labor dispute with Bock Construction, which is working on Whirlpool's new Cleveland, Tenn., plant.

UAW organizing

Leaders such as United Auto Workers President Bob King vowed last year to organize at least one of the foreign auto plants that have located in the South over the past two decades. UAW Regional Director Gary Casteel said this summer the union wants to organize the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga.

UAW spokeswoman Michele Martin declined last week to discuss the union's plans or interest in the 2,000-employee VW assembly plant in Chattanooga.

But Peter Morse, a partner in the law firm in Indianapolis who represents several domestic and foreign car manufactures, said the UAW could try to get a toehold in the region by organizing auto suppliers or segments of the assembly plant staff where discontent may be greatest. UAW has said it will spend up to $60 million for organizing efforts in the South.

"It's very difficult to get a majority of the thousands of workers at these plants to be angry and want a union at one time," Morse said. "But as an alternative strategy, we may to try to break up the staff and go after the weakest link inside the plant or to target smaller suppliers to those plants.

"They can try to catch a lot of 2-pound smallmouth bass and leave the tarpon fishing for later," he said.

To organize a work site, a majority of workers must sign a petition asking the National Labor Relations Board to conduct an election for the employees to unionize. If more than half the voting workers say they want a union, the employer must recognize the union and begin negotiations for a contract.

Directors of the NLRB are appointed by the U.S. president, and the board recently has agreed to allow for quicker union votes and to require employers to do more to alert workers of their organizing rights.

"This is the most pro-union NLRB we've been in many years, and when you have a union like the UAW vowing to organize the South, you have to take that seriously," Morse said.

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about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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larwilb60 said...

Go by ANY construction site in this area and you will see ILLEGALS taking construction jobs from CITIZENS! As far as the cranes being inactive in Atlanta-give Obama time to initiate a crane operator training program for ILLEGALS....are you folks aware that he just gave backdoor blanket AMNESTY to millions of ILLEGALS? FEDERAL CRIMINALS! That are already here taking jobs and BENEFITS! AND HE PLANS TO ALSO GIVE THEM WORK PERMITS! For what jobs??? I bet he doesnt mention this in his AFTER VACATION, EPIPHANY of a jobs speech!

September 5, 2011 at 6:32 a.m.
joneses said...

It is simple. If the Volkswgon employees vote to go socialist (union) I will not be buying a Volkswagon. The reason is I would not want a car made buy someone who has to have another person think for them.

September 5, 2011 at 7:48 a.m.
rolando said...

Unions destroy both jobs and companies by forcing jobs overseas. They have indefinitely shut down entire seaboards and nationwide transportation industries and to Hell with the country.

Bought a General Motors product lately?

Their time is past. Good riddance.

September 5, 2011 at 8:27 a.m.
JoeHill said...


Don't hate the people who, against all odds, are working to protect the standard of living we currently enjoy but is being attacked by multinational corporations in an increasingly brazen manner.

By the way, with half a billion dollars in tax breaks and incentives, Volkswagen can afford to pay a unionized workforce.

September 5, 2011 at 8:49 a.m.
nucanuck said...

How can heavily unionized Germany be so prosperous and competitive? They must be smarter than we are.

September 5, 2011 at 10:34 a.m.
eastridge8 said...

I am against ALL unions. They USED to serve a good purpose but not anymore. Unions are a thing of the past. They and they alone are to blame for much of Detroit's misery and shut-downs costing thousands of jobs lost...they are one reason so many jobs/businnesses went overseas...If VW goes union then there goes my next car...

September 5, 2011 at 10:45 a.m.
macropetala8 said...

*Union ranks shrink despite vigorous organizing efforts

As Unions in the private sector are on the decline, government workers Unions, such as the Union Of Prison Guards, have gotten stronger, more powerful and influential in how our daily lives operate.

TO everyone who blast Unions, just wait until these companies have your 6 and 7 year old child working 12 and 14 hour shifts in dangerous working conditions alongside you. Unions help to set the standards of pay and working conditons in non-Union companies. Without Unions, workers hurt on a job were let go without any compensations. If killed on a job, their families were left with nothing. No compensations, no death benefits NOTHING. Unions helped to establish safe working conditions and decent working hours in companies that would quickly roll an injured employee out the door and roll in another to take his/her place.

Just check out how these American companies operating in other countries are abusing the workers. Over thirty people were killed in an explosion at a Bangledesh factory that makes clothing for major U.S. Dept. stores and well known clothing brands. One of those stores___{fill in the blank} have backed out of a deal and is refusing to compensate the families of those killed in that explosion.

September 5, 2011 at 11:03 a.m.
larwilb60 said...

Why are you all union bashing? the unions have nothing to do with what has happened. why arent ya'll bashing all the ILLEGALS taking our jobs, taking advantage of our support systems that they are NOT eligible for? why arent ya'll bashing the companies that have sent our jobs to Mexico, India, China etc? Why arent ya'll bashing the system that allows people to grow up in Public Housing and welfare and then have kids that become another generation of public housing residents? why arent ya'll bashing all the foreigners coming here opening restaurants,convenience stores, gas stations, hotels, cigarette stores, etc yet they do NOT hire American citizens (whether white or Black to work there)!How many Mexican restaurants have you gone to that had a white or black employee???? Buy ONLY Made in USA whether union-made or not! Only shop in American owned/operated stores! Only eat in American owned/operated and employs American CITIZENS. Stop bashing the unions because they have helped keep CITIZENS employed paying taxes to support all of the above mentioned points!

September 5, 2011 at 11:15 a.m.
macropetala8 said...

why arent ya'll bashing all the ILLEGALS taking our jobs, taking advantage of our support systems that they are NOT eligible for?

Why bash* those illegals when they were personally invited by the Bush regime and other members of the GOP years ago. They were invited here by wealthy Republicans and their GOP cronies to accomplish exactly what is being accomplished. To destroy Unions and bring down American wages. It's not their fault! They're trying to survive like the rest of us. Remember some of the deadliest riots to break out in America were over jobs. Usually blacks migrating from the south were accused of taking jobs from poor working whites around the country.

I personally refuse to fall prey to the game by turning on "illegals" or anyone, for that matter, because that's what the powerfuls want and expect.

September 5, 2011 at 11:24 a.m.
larwilb60 said...

BASHING? They broke FEDERAL law...they are criminals! I personally dont care if they are "trying to survive like the rest of us"! They have an option that WE dont! THey can go back where they came from and NOT be a burden on US TAXPAYERS! Not take our jobs at lower wages! Not go to the emergency room for free care! Not steal SSN's! Nobody invited these ILLEGALS or they wouldnt be ILLEGAL! Stop living in what happened in the past and look at the here an now! I bet you even speak Spanish?

September 5, 2011 at 11:53 a.m.
larwilb60 said...

and macropetala8, a writer for this paper named Perla Trevizo writes articles I am sure you would love...and I am sure it wont be long before the TFP puts out a spanish language version to cater to the ILLEGALS that won't make the effort to learn the language!

September 5, 2011 at 11:56 a.m.
terrybham said...

Jump on the "I hate the Unions more that you do" parade, we want to be the first people to hit the bottom of the economic scale. It amazes me that so many people enjoy being dumped on. Forty years ago I worked at a Union manufacturing plant in Chattanooga and made a very good wage. That plant is gone now, along with many more. Early Union workers brought the worker the mininum wage, child labor laws, a 40 hour work week, health insurance and retirement systems, as well as a little thing we like to refer to as the "weekend". Terrible things aren't they. Before these early victories the weekend was just another day.

You people may curse the Unions and vote against your own interests, but you can be sure that the wealthy will always vote their interests, and their interests do not include you.

September 5, 2011 at 1:11 p.m.
rolando said...

Yes, terry, the unions did all that and more...but that was "then".

They have outlived their usefulness today since federal laws now prevent all of that and more from recurring. Today, all unions are an albatross hanging around the workers' necks.

With the demise of the power of the Wisconsin Teachers' Unions, instead of a $500,000 shortfall, the schools show a $1,500,000 surplus. Simply putting the health insurance contract with the formerly union-mandated and owned company up for open bid did wonders. The union insurance company immediately lowered its cost to one-third what it was under the union mandate. No wonder the unions and their thugs opposed it so...ah...energetically.

September 5, 2011 at 1:49 p.m.
rolando said...

JoeHill [Joan was right?] --

Who said anything against American workers? We have the finest workforce in the world, bar none. It certainly wasn't the unions that made them that way...nor was it the illegal freekin' aliens.

Unions encourage cronyism, sloth, idiotic conditions of employment/use, alcoholism and drug abuse, shirking, promotion by seniority and not by skill level or ability...need I go on?

September 5, 2011 at 1:57 p.m.
macropetala8 said...

rolando said... They have outlived their usefulness today since federal laws now prevent all of that and more from recurring

Well, rolandy, go ahead! Get rid of all unions and just watch how quickly America regress right back bygone days, where children were forced to work in dangerous and unsafe conditions. What do you think is really taking place in all those countries where American businesses have set up shop? When those workers in other countries tried to form and bring about safer and better working conditions, many have been beaten and even killed. No different than when Unions first attempts at establishing Unions in the American workplace.

September 5, 2011 at 1:58 p.m.
macropetala8 said...

larwilb60 said... They broke FEDERAL law...they are criminals

So did slaves seeking their freedoms. So did Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a bus. It just means anything can be placed into law, then people can be arrested for breaking that law.

September 5, 2011 at 2 p.m.
rolando said...

So who will change all those federal laws and allow that to happen, macro? You? The Unions? Don't make me laugh. If Unions owned the workforce, we would all be their slaves. Literally, not figuratively.

Children work all the time in family-owned businesses, farms, dairies, etc. Do you see them "forced to work in dangerous and unsafe conditions"? I call BS.

Union-loving Liberals dwell in the past yet refuse to learn by it. They stick their collective noses into the running of foreign countries, just as they stick it into the private lives of Americans.

September 5, 2011 at 2:09 p.m.
rolando said...

Slaves and Rosa sought freedom from state laws holding them down, macro. Federal law changed those repressive laws, much to the Democrats' chagrin.

Child work laws are federal, not state.

Don't even compare equal rights for blacks with the oppressive Unions and their anti-right to work attitudes. They force you to join the union in closed-shop states if you want to work. THAT is slavery. So don't even go the Rosa Parks route.

For decades, you couldn't even join a union unless you were a certain ethnic/racial group. It probably took federal intervention to reverse that discriminatory attitude.

September 5, 2011 at 2:16 p.m.
macropetala8 said...

rolandy, yours an illogical and ignorant comparsion. Children working in family-owned businesses such as in a mom and pop shopt, or even on a family farm can't be compared to working in a dangerous factory environment where you can't even leave your work station for a pee break.

For you, ignorance must be a blissful place. Please remain there.

September 5, 2011 at 2:19 p.m.
rolando said...

macro you are impossible. It is against federal law for children AND ADULTS to work in a "dangerous factory environment". GOT THAT? FEDERAL LAW.

Why do I bother with someone who has never heard of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, much less read it. The only organization to which that Act does not apply is the Federal Government.

I will let you have the last word on this matter. You obviously know nothing about the subject.

September 5, 2011 at 5:39 p.m.
macropetala8 said...

Actually, rolandy, I know more than you give me credit for. For one thing, I know no matter what federal law states, the private business sector will find away around it to get their pound of flesh. Why do you think Congress refused to take action in those days against unsafe working environment and dangerous working environments? It was out of respect and in support of private businesses, state and local government. Do away with Union oversight and see where America goes.

September 5, 2011 at 9:39 p.m.
MasterChefLen said...

The Chattanooga local carpenter's union is good representation of unions in general. A bunch of lazy bums protesting construction sites because they feel entitled to jobs and should not have to actually work in a competitive environment.

September 5, 2011 at 9:56 p.m.
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