Organized labor arose in response to the industrialization of the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. Factory workers wanted wanted better hours and safer working conditions. The formation of labor unions was not welcomed by factory owners or the government. There were violent incidents, but unions gradually became stronger. Many worker rights now taken for granted, such as the eight-hour working day, were won by organized labor.
Today, union membership is at an all-time low. Also, very few private-sector workers are in labor unions. In 2018, only ten percent of Americans belonged to trade unions. In 1980, on the other hand, membership was at about twenty percent. In addition, unions are especially weak in Republican-dominated states.
Unions are an important economic entity. For example, companies with unions pay somewhat less to their CEOs. In recent years, CEO compensation has skyrocketed while workers' pay has stagnated. Unions guard against outrageous CEO pay packages.
Union membership in America also lags behind that of most other advanced nations. In Italy, for example, 37% of workers are in a union. Canada, the foreign nation most like the United States, has almost 27% of its labor force in unions.
One bright spot in the union movement has been in the organization of adjunct faculty. Most American colleges and universities rely heavily on adjunct faculty today. These part-time college instructors earn low pay and have few—if any—benefits. In New Jersey, adjunct faculty members received a large pay hike in 2019.
Is the future of unions bright? I am afraid not. There is quite a lot of anti-union sentiment in America. Also, the trend toward temporary employment does not help union membership.