Labor Unions and Their Decline Term Paper

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From this perspective, right-to-work laws are passed in states in which public opinion is anti- union and the labor movement is politically ineffective; in such states, employees are less attracted to unions, and it is this public opinion climate, rather than the legislation itself, that harms union growth (Abraham & Voost 2000).

The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation; Bureau of National Affairs (2002), reports that New Jersey does not have right-to-work laws as shown in the graph in Table 1 below, comparing this state with two of its Middle Atlantic neighbors.

Middle Atlantic States and Right-to-Work Laws


Right to Work (Yes/No)

Union in Private Sector

New Jersey

New York


Table 1. Comparison of Middle Atlantic States' Right-to-Work Laws. Source: Middle Atlantic Right to Work States National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation; Bureau of National Affairs, 2002.

Similarities between Conflict Theorists and Functional Theorists in the Discussion of Labor Unions. Conflict theorists believe that in the past, the struggle between races and classes has determined the course of human history, and that all industrial societies will exhibit a similar conflict between managers and the managed (Bottomore & Nisbet 1978). By contrast, functional theorists have always tried to provide an account of institutional organization and change based on the relations between motives, reasons, and purposes (Bottomore & Nisbet 1978). Both functional and conflict theorists believe that there are certain universal functional and organizational imperatives that produce essentially similar patterns of occupational inequality across all complex societies (Milner 1987).


The research showed that labor unions arose in response to the increasingly harsh working conditions that followed the rapid industrialization of the United Kingdom and the United States. After several decades of growth, though, labor unions began to experience a decline in membership during the 1980s that has continued to the present. The reasons for this decline have been variously attributed to shifts in the social contract, high unemployment and inflation rates, and increasingly negative perceptions of unions among others. In the final analysis, the days of the labor union may well be numbered in some industries, but for those developing countries that lack the fundamental legal employee protections that exist in most industrialized countries, the need for labor unions will likely continue for years to come.

Works Cited

Abraham, Steven E. And Paula B. Voost. (2000). Right-to-Work Laws: New Evidence from the Stock Market. Southern Economic Journal, 67(2):345.

Black's Law Dictionary. St. Paul, MN: West Publishing Co., 1990.

A ore, Tom and Robert Nisbet (Eds.). A History of Sociological Analysis. New York: Basic Books, 1978.

Galenson, Walter.

Trade Union Growth and Decline: An International Study. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1994.

Gall, Gilbert J. Politics of Right to Work: The Labor Federations as Special Interests, 1943- 1979. New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Middle Atlantic Right to Work States. (2002). National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation; Bureau of National Affairs. Available:

Milner, Murray, Jr. (1987). Theories of Inequality: An Overview and a Strategy for Synthesis. Social Forces, 65(4):1054.

Moore, William J. (1980). Membership and Wage Impact of Right -to-Work Laws. Journal of Labor Research, 1(2):349.

Zax, Jeffrey S. And Casey Ichniowski. (1991). Excludability and the effects of free riders: Right-to-work laws and local public sector unionization. Public Finance Quarterly, 19:293-315.

Key Points

Labor unions were created by workers as a means of protecting themselves from big labor and to secure better wages, working conditions and hours.

Reasons for Decline of Labor Unions include:

a. Employer attitudes toward organization of workers.

b. Unemployment tends to bring about a serious drain on union membership and finances.

c. Prevailing anti-union opinion climate of a particular state.

d. Job Restructuring.

e. High Inflation Rates.

f. High Unemployment Rates.

Right-to-work laws tend to constrain union bargaining power and growth.

All right-to-work laws outlaw union shop agreements (these are clauses in collective bargaining agreements that require employees to join the union that represents them).

About half of the states also outlaw agency shop agreements (these are clauses in collective bargaining agreements that require nonmembers to pay a fee to the union to cover the cost of representation).

Advocates of right-to-work legislation maintain that the…[continue]

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