Last month, Aaron Sankin wrote about a puzzling paradox affecting the newest generation to join America’s workforce. Millennials, born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, hold a much more favorable view of labor unions than older generations, but they are the least likely age group to be in unions. Sankin asks, if 61% of respondents aged 18 to 29 surveyed earlier this year hold a favorable view of labor unions, why aren’t they part of the labor movement?
Unfortunately, many young workers don’t have the option to join a traditional union. As the American economy has become largely post-industrial, he notes, fewer private-sector industries are unionized. I would add that restrictive labor law, a difficult organizing process and widespread employer intimidation make it difficult for new groups of workers to form collective bargaining units. Given the shrinking levels of unionization and the rising intensity of political attacks on collective bargaining rights, both public and private workers are less likely to be unionized than in previous generations.
This decades-long decline in union membership has led to stagnant median wage growth and increasing levels of income inequality. As Sankin and other commentators such as Peter Beinart have observed, millennials are a civic-minded generation whose coming-of-age experiences have been heavily shaped by 9/11, the recession, high youth unemployment and rising income inequality. Entering the workforce with rising aggregate levels of education debt at a time of diminishing economic opportunity, many millennials are searching for an opportunity to gain a shot at achieving the American Dream.
Well, good news, young workers of America! The AFL-CIO has spent the last 10 years exploring alternative forms of union membership, and there are ways for anyone to join the labor movement.
In 2003, Working America was formed to provide education, job training and workplace support for workers without collective bargaining agreements. With more than 3 million members, Working America provides assistance to anyone who needs it. Click here for more info on becoming a Working America member. And to find out more about joining a union, check this out.
Additionally, at the 2013 AFL-CIO convention, delegates overwhelmingly agreed to explore alternative methods of unionization and invite any worker to become part of the movement. Resolution 5 urged affiliate unions to make membership available to any worker who wants to join the labor movement. Many unions are already experimenting with associate membership programs in industries they represent, providing training and support for employees of nonunion employers.
The theme of the 2013 convention was building a bigger and more inclusive movement for all workers. Millennials face many obstacles in the working world and, as a generation, hunger for shared prosperity. Want to join a union? Here’s the good news: You can!
Sean Savett is a Media Outreach Fellow at the AFL-CIO. This post first appeared on the AFL-CIO Now blog.