New research from the Pew Research Center shows union memberships among U.S. wage and salary workers at just 11%.It's fair to say that the U.S. has a very complicated relationship with labor unions.Despite all of the headlines we continue to see about labor conflicts and organizing rights, a new poll conducted by the Pew Research Center indicates that a 48% of Americans still hold favorable views of labor unions, compared to just 39% marking unfavorable. That seems like good news for the unions, but a close look at the actual membership rates over the last 30 years tells a pretty dim story. In 1983, about 17.6 million wage and salary workers in the U.S belonged to labor unions – that's was over 20% of the total workforce. Since then, memberships have been in almost constant freefall.
According to the Pew report, union membership plunged to just over 11% in 2014, down 45% in just 31 years. Worse, if we go all the way back to peak membership in 1954, 2014's numbers show a sharp, 75% drop.The biggest decline was seen in the installation, maintenance, and repair industries—which covers everything from auto mechanics and avionics technicians to watch repairers—which fell from 21.2% in 2000 to just 14.6% last year. At the same time, membership in the construction, oil, and mining industry fell from 23.8% to 17.8%. In that same four-year timespan, union membership in the manufacturing industry – which was once the foundation of the U.S. labor movement – fell from 19% of all production workers to just 13.2%.Weirdly, one of the few segments that shows an increase in membership is "management occupations," which Pew's Drew DeSilver notes "would seem to be the antithesis of labor unions." Between 2000 and 2014, that segment showed a 0.3% increase in unionization rate, adding about 124,000 new members. If you're looking for a pro-union silver lining in this report, DeSilver points back to the original statistic pointing to continued—and in some cases overwhelming—public support."Despite the declines in actual unionization, majorities of Americans surveyed by Pew Research say many different types of workers should have the right to unionize," DeSilver writes. "Of the six types of workers Pew Research asked about, public support for unionizing ranged from 62% (fast-food workers) to 82% (manufacturing and factory workers)."