Just 11.3 percent of workers today belong to a union, continuing Big Labor’s long decline. In the private sector, only 6.6 percent of workers pay union dues.

Much of this decline reflects America’s antiquated labor laws, which “do not meet the needs of modern American workers,” according to Heritage Foundation labor expert James Sherk.

America was a more industrial economy when Franklin Roosevelt enacted the National Labor Relations Act eight decades ago. But that economy is long gone. In fact, Sherk notes, “a majority of union members (51 percent) work in government. More than twice as many union members now work in the U.S. Postal Service as in the domestic auto industry.”

America’s economy has modernized over the last several decades, leaving unions behind. “Traditional unions no longer appeal to workers the way they did two generations ago,” Sherk writes. “Outdated restrictions in labor laws are now seen as holding back both employers and employees.”

For example, union wage rates are legally both minimum and maximum wages: A unionized employer may not pay employees more than the union rate without the union’s permission. While unions happily accept group raises, they often resist individual performance pay. They typically insist that employers base promotions and raises on seniority instead of individual recognition.

Do you believe that labor laws need to be updated to meet 21st century needs? Tell us in the comments below. 

Comments (22)

William Anderson - February 1, 2013

We should adopt a national right to work law. Unions have outlived their usefulness.

Wilbert Ellis - February 1, 2013

To start with, Unions have made it almost impossible to get rid of unproductive, lazy, even plain BAD employees. Getting rid of the unions would be a good start to gettting rid of non-productive employees.

With that, we do need some means to keep companies from getting rid of people just prior to retirement to prevent having to pay retirement to them.

Myrna Rochelle - February 1, 2013

There are too many laws on the “books” that were created to fill a specific need at the time and instead of being fazed out when no longer needed, they just get bigger. We could save a lot of money by cutting agencies that are no longer necessary, but keep growing.

Dan Ringler - February 1, 2013

Unions really are no longer necessary in the USA, especially government unions which are creating huge state-wide and city-government deficits. Unions create inefficiencies in business and government, reducing overall effectiveness. Companies should issue common stock to employees to motivate them to do good work because they will then “have a real piece of the action.” This would improve productivity and should motivate employees to do their jobs better. The better the company does, the better their stock position, and the more money they can realize. Plus, employees would not have to pay union dues anymore and lose control over part of their hard-earned money. Government employees income and benefits should be based on reasonably competitive rates with private enterprise to ensure the government gets to complete equally with civilian businesses for good, competent people.

Lee Joyner - February 1, 2013

We need to stop Federal & State governments from protecting and suporting unions, particularly public unions.

If there was some means of converting the NLRB into an organization that was looking out for small business interests, and even large ones like Boeing, I believe the economy would benefit in the long term.

Joe Rumble - February 1, 2013

Unions should be the leaders in making American products, services, productivity, quality, and workplace safety better, but they resist any change. Workplace improvements generate long-term security for the workers, yet unions stubbornly resist management’s efforts to improve.

FELI REYES - February 2, 2013

I had been a union member of both the public and private non-profit sectors until the recent 23 years of non-unionized
agency. I did not see anything different being a member or not. The union builds their own empire of power and control/intimidation, use of bad language, liberal ideologies, etc. The union officers are highly paid and like some of our politicians get rich quickly.

I see no need for union; it only creates problems for management and workers.

True Cousins - February 2, 2013

Labor laws must be changed! Specifically, the requirement for union membership to work MUST be eliminated. This current requirement has driven untold industries out of the country or into right-to-work states.

Douglas Nicholson - February 2, 2013

I have nothing against unions…PRIVATE SECTOR unions, that is. If someone works for the government, which is another way of saying they work for the people, it should be legal for them to belong any organization of their peers EXCEPT a union. The Fraternal Order of Police is a good example. Their spokesperson can discuss the desires of their membership with government, but that is NOT collective bargaining.
As to private sector unions, membership should be voluntary, never mandatory, and dues should never be taken directly from the member’s pay check.

Douglas Nicholson - February 2, 2013

I think the author’s premise is wrong. It’s not government labor laws that need to change, but union rules. As he points out, individual exceptionalism is discouraged by the union’s policies that require raises for all, never for the member who excels. This attitude on the part of the union not only holds back the individual, but the membership as a whole, not to mention the employer. As a friend who was a new member of a union once told me, he was approached by his union shop steward and told that he was working too fast and making his coworkers look bad. But if he was encouraged to work faster or more efficiently, it would encourage his fellows to do the same in order to not “look bad”.

Tammy - February 2, 2013

Yes, union labor laws should be updated. Unions have too much power in the work place and within our government. Employers should not be forced to unionize. Government jobs should NOT be unionized.
Unions breed mediocrity. This is especially true with the Teachers Union. Why should anyone want to work harder and excel when the unions have made it easy not to do so? There was a time when unions were needed, now they are not. Because of their policies and over reaching with pay and benefits, they have set themselves on a path to become less important, less powerful and maybe even obsolete some day. We can not afford unions as they are right now.

Frank Centala - February 2, 2013

If I were to owner of a comapny with say 200,000 employees of course I would rather bargain with a few individuals rather than each one. But what the union should not have is a right to close down the business. You state your your price of labor and if I disagree I have the right to solicit another bid from someone else. In addition dues should not be mandaory and dues should not be used for political purposes.

David Winter - February 2, 2013

I grew up in a strong union town in the mid-west with father and uncles all union members. The industries that supported them were priced out of the market and went out of business. If a worker is paid more, the product or service produced gets more expensive. Until the price point where the consumer stops buying, then the company dies.

Public unions should not be allowed because we, taxpayers, do not have a choice to use or not their services. They have a monopoly. The decision makers who negotiate with the public union are bureaucrats who get the same benefits granted to the union workers. Why would they say no?

I believe the scope of unions needs to be redefined and right to work laws are needed in all states. When you land a job, it is the company paying you. Why should you be required to join a union?

It seems obvious that people are voting with their feet and leaving high tax and unionized states for low tax and right to work states.

John P Donico - February 2, 2013

YES. labor Laws need to be changed and improved.One way to break the Unions is to stop the Companies, Cities or States from automatically deducting the employees wages from their paychecks. If the employees had to send their monthly dues in to the Union themselves, the Unions would never receive the money. I know of hundreds of workers who hate these union bosses and do not like what they stand for. But they are afraid to speak up. All the workers want are increased wages and no BS from the Union officials who spend the money without the workers knowledge or approval. This is why the Unions make the deductions mandatory because they know no one will send their payments in. I was a Union Steward for 8 years and heard all kinds of comments from my colleagues who wer afraid to speak up. Stop the automatic payments and this will cripple the unions and give the workers some say over where this money goes.

phyllis talmadge - February 2, 2013

Unions are too big now, they are the oppressors these days. Freedom is a precious thing. Too precious to be given to those that would take ones freedom of choice and ones money and use it for Union leadwership’s advantage.

John H. Field - February 2, 2013

Of course they do. Union members should be prosecuted like any other person who commits criminal acts, not excuse if the act was done for “legitimate union” objectives.

Employees should universally have a choice: Do I want to be a member of a union as a condition of employment, or not? A national “right to work” law is badly need to protect workers right to choose.

Kurt Weidler - February 2, 2013

I believe that unions are totally out of step with mainstream hard working Americans. They serve the liberal leadership (Obama) as a slush fund and do absolutely nothing to promote strong work ethic and values that many of us still believe in today.

Holly Chapo - February 2, 2013

Yes, of course they need to be updated. They probably need to be simplified and revamped to eliminate too much government intervention. Since I question the validity of many of these agencies and bureaucracies to exist at all (they are certainly not deemed necessary in the Constitution) perhaps we should take a closer look at the NLRB and decide if we should keep it.

Bruce Sucher - February 3, 2013

Labor unions and the laws that govern the relationship between employer and employees must change, It is almost unamerican and unpartriotic to not allow an employee choose whether or not he or she wants to join a union. Some states have already began the process but Big Labor is fighting hard to earn the right to control the work place. SInce when does a non-owner of a buysiness not only choose to control the employees but wants to make the work rules fit their needs. Sorry, but the needs of the compoany and employees freedom is paramount not Big Labor.

Paddy O - February 4, 2013

In Europe, countries have come to a standstill due to organized, similtaneus strikes by bus drivers, garbage men, government workers etc. This is the goal of unions in the U.S. Card Check will help them to achieve this!

MARJORIE ENDERLE - February 5, 2013

If the union membership has declined so much in the last several years, why do they still have the power to help get Obama elected?

Nickolay Tarabykin - February 9, 2015

I work really hard to get my car fixed up. But everytime I try to get more hours, my employer can’t give it to me due to the labor laws for a minor are too strict.

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