The typical union worker now is more likely to be an educator, office worker, or food or service industry employee rather than a construction worker, autoworker, or electrical mechanic. Until recently, the unionization rate was far higher in the private sector than in the public sector. “The basic structure of the labor union movement has changed, reflecting changes in the economy,” said Ross Barker, a political science professor at Rutgers University. “Manufacturing is a diminishing segment of the economy. Also, a lot of the manufacturing that’s being done today is done non-union.” Professor Barker does not see the role of unions diminishing. “I just think the colors of the collars are changing,” he said.
For proof, the American Federal of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) has succeeded in recruiting more than 90,000 new members this year through grassroots organizing by teams of trained “volunteer members organizers” (VMOs). AFSCME now has 1.6 million members, making it one of the largest labor unions in the United States. Despite the recent setback to public unions and agency fees in Harris v. Quinn, home health workers made up 20,000 of the 90,000 members recently organized.
Lee Saunders, AFSCME President, has Republican governors in states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania in his crosshairs. According to him, those governors attacked public sector collective bargaining, wages, work rules, and pension security. As the fall elections approach, Saunders plans to mobilize his members and dedicate them to unseating Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio’s Gov. John Kasich, both of whom are seeking re-election in November.