Patt Morrison for April 30, 2012

What is the future of organized labor in the United States?

American Airlines Workers Rally Outside U.S. Bankruptcy Court

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

American Airlines and American Eagle employees prepare to march to U.S. Bankruptcy Court to protest against American's plans to cut jobs and labor costs while under bankruptcy court protection on April 23, 2012 in New York City. American is seeking permission to break-up union contracts and cut expenses by $1.25 billion. The airline's three major unions, while opposing the company's restructuring plans, announced Friday that they would support a potential takeover bid by US Airways.

Job security. Health care. Retirement. Workers in the United States have a lot to feel insecure about within a still-shaky economy.

Labor unions, for generations, have represented these concerns within work places, but organized labor has also been declining for decades, since private-sector union membership hit its peak in the 1950s. During that time, about 40 percent of laborers belonged to a union. Compare that to 7.6 percent private-sector union membership last year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. American Airlines, for instance, has already tried to cancel its pension plan for 130,000 workers, and now wants to pull the plug on its union contracts too.

Economic woes have long been considered one factor why organized labor is losing steam, with a balance of power shifted in favor of employers, with many workers fearful of losing their jobs. Do unions have any future in this scaled-down economy?


As a worker, do you belong to a union, or do you wish there was one at your work place to counteract bad management? If a business owner, how do you view unions amid labor cost increases?


Richard Hurd, professor, industrial and labor relations, Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Damon Silvers, public policy director for the AFL-CIO

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