The Moving Unions Forward campaign was launched on the simple premise that unions have failed to adapt to the modern workforce, and it seeks to address how they can change to better serve workers.
American unions have a long and rich history that dates back to the 1800s. The New Deal and other labor reforms in the early part of the last century helped unions become a powerful force in both the workplace and politics – but in recent decades their influence has faltered as their membership rates have steadily declined.
The Moving Unions Forward campaign argues that the problem unions are facing stems from their refusal to adapt to the modern workforce. Modern workers are becoming more individualistic, and technology has changed whole industries and even ushered in new ways of working like the sharing-economy. F. Vincent Vernuccio, who helped launch the campaign, argues that the union model is simply stuck in the past.
“We want to see unions develop into the 21st century,” Vernuccio told InsideSources. “They got this industrial revolution, early 20th-century business model, that’s simply not serving workers. Time and time again, the unions that are stuck and haven’t adapted, even if they are playing lip service to it, the modern day workforce is just saying no thank you.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported earlier in the year that only 10.7 percent of the national workforce is unionized. The report found that the public-sector has the highest rate of unionized workers at 34.4 percent, but only 6.4 percent of private-sector workers are unionized. The report is particularly troubling for unions with the U.S. Supreme Court considering a case which could make union dues or fees voluntary for all public-sector workers.
Vernuccio points to the United Automobile Workers (UAW) as a prime example – with the union facing a series of major defeats in recent years. Fuyao Glass Group Industries workers in Ohio overwhelming rejected the union Nov. 9. Nissan North America workers in Mississippi voted against the union in August. Volkswagen workers in Tennessee turned the union down in 2015, prompting it to organize a small subgroup of workers, which critics saw as a violation of federal labor law.
“The UAW is a classic example of that industrial revolution, one size fits all, union, that workers from Mississippi to Tennessee, and most recently Ohio, are just saying no, we don’t want what you’re offering,” Vernuccio said. “The last few elections for the UAW, the big ones, it hasn’t even been close. Most of them have been around that two to one margin.”
Vernuccio believes it’s not too late for unions to reverse course and change their model to reflect the modern workforce. He suggests unions should take a more individualist approach to providing value to workers, and not just lump them all into one indistinguishable group. He adds unions should also embrace worker choices policies, like right-to-work, so workers can decide whether they want to pay for the service they are providing, rather than being forced to accept it.
“They need to adapt and become more like professional service workers organizations,” Vernuccio said. “They need to get away from the one-size fits all model, serve the individual worker, provide value for both the employer and the employee, and that’s how they can start to repair. Instead of doing the one-size fits all contract, where the only way you can get ahead is by seniority or logging another year on the job, embrace merit pay, allow employees to benefit by how hard they work, and how productive they are.”
Vernuccio highlighted the problem and how unions can fix it long before he launched the campaign, in a 2014 report entitled “Unionization for the 21st Century” which was released by the free-market Mackinac Center. The report detailed the decline of union membership rates and how his suggestions could help them reverse course.
Democrats and labor unions have countered over the years that the declining union membership rates are more the result of anti-union reforms. They have argued policies like right-to-work are an underhanded attempt by corporate interests to undermine unions so they can take advantage of workers.
Former President Barack Obama has echoed the concerns, with his administration pursuing policies to help boost union membership. Nevertheless, union membership continued to decline during those years. Vernuccio counters that policies like right-to-work aren’t about hurting unions, but rather giving workers a choice on whether they want to be members.
“When workers are given a choice, they say no to the union,” Vernuccio said. “That speaks volumes about what the union is offering, rather than the workers. There is no clearer example of that than what happened in Ohio with the Fuyao plant.”
Vernuccio ultimately hopes that labor unions will voluntarily adapt to a modern model, and that union leaders will sit down with the campaign so they can start a conversation together. National unions are unlikely to embrace such a model, especially with their steadfast opposition to worker choice policies, but he believes there are people in the labor movement interested in reform.
“It has to start somewhere, and where that is we’ll have to see,” Vernuccio said. “But I think there are forward-looking visionaries within the labor movement that realize their current model is not working, and they have to adapt. We just want to make sure we’re talking with them and helping them realize that yes, you can embrace the free-market, and yes that is the best thing for your future.”
The Moving Unions Forward campaign is on the first phase of their effort, which involves highlighting the problem. The next phase will focus more on possible solutions that could help unions become more modern.