Accounting For The Decline in Union Membership

William T. Dickens, Jonathan S. Leonard

NBER Working Paper No. 1275 (Also Reprint No. r0641)
Issued in February 1984
NBER Program(s):Labor Studies

Since the early 50s, the percent of the workforce organized by unions has declined considerably. In the most recent decade that rate of decline has accelerated sharply. In an attempt to discover what factors can account for the overall decline and the further deterioration during the 70s, we decompose the sources of growth and decline to determine the relative importance of changes in organizing activity, success in certification elections, decertifications, and net growth due to economic causes. We find that all factors except decertifications account for a substantial part of the change. In addition, interactions between the factors are very important. A significant finding is that while organizing activity and success rates have been declining over time, the net growth (or loss) of membership due to economic causes has remained stable controlling for the aggregate level of economic activity. We argue that this finding is inconsistent with the prevailing view that the decline in the percent of the workforce organized is primarily due to the decline of the heavily unionized core industries.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w1275

Published: Dickens, William T. and Jonathan S. Leonard. "Accounting for the Decline in Union Membership: 1950-1980," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, Vol . 38, No. 3, (April 1985), pp. 323-334.

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