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January 2010, Vol. 133, No. 1
Union Membership Attrition
Gary Chaison is a professor of Industrial Relations in the Graduate School of Management at Clark University. E-mail: GChaison@Clarku.edu
In studies of the state of the labor unions, researchers often estimate union membership attrition—that is, the annual loss in union members caused by employment shifts. For unions to have net growth in the number of members, the losses must be offset by new union members, which are gotten through organizing.1 This research summary examines the validity of common assumptions about membership attrition by measuring union membership changes in expanding and declining industries as well as the number of new members needed by the unions each year for either no change or an increase in union density of 1 percentage point. Union density, a widely used measure of union organization and influence, is calculated as the annual percentage of employed wage and salary workers who are union members.2
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1 Gary N. Chaison and Joseph B. Rose, “The Macrodeterminants of Unions Growth and Decline,” in George Strauss, Daniel G. Gallagher, and Jack Fiorito, eds., The State of the Unions (Madison, WI, Industrial Relations Research Association, 1991), pp. 3–45.
2 Gary N. Chaison and Joseph B. Rose, “Linking Union Density and Union Effectiveness,” Industrial Relations, January 1996, pp. 78–105.
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