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February, 1985, Vol. 108, No. 2
Changing employment patterns
of organized workers
The organized labor movement lost 2.7 million members among employed wage and salary workers between 1980 and 1984. This was a particularly sharp drop in the number of union1 members compared with the experience between the end of World War II and 1980, a period of generally rising union membership. Because this decline took place while the nation's workforce grew, the proportion of employed wage and salary workers who were union members declined during the period, continuing a trend that began in the late 1950's.
The change in the number and proportion of union members took place while changes in the American economy were having a particularly severe impact on employment in goods-producing industries and in transportation, where many union members worked. Competition from imports was growing and government deregulation of the transportation industry in 1980 increased competition from nonunion firms. The "smokestack" industries, the traditional source of union strength, were stagnant or declining, while the less-organized service-producing industries had vigorous employment gains. During the recession of 1981-1982, unemployment hit hardest in industries where unions were strong but, to date, the recovery has been most vigorous in industries and occupations that typically have low levels of unionization.
This excerpt is from an article published in the February 1985 issue of the Monthly Labor Review. The full text of the article is available in Adobe Acrobat's Portable Document Format (PDF). See How to view a PDF file for more information.
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1 "Union" is defined to include traditional labor unions and employee associations that represent employees in collective bargaining.
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