We have written previous entries about the workplace changes brought about by increasing numbers of millennials in the workforce. We have looked at the factors that affect their workplace satisfaction and retention. This time, we want to consider their impact on organized labor.
We know union membership rates are at historic lows, but this is especially true of millennials. Around 4% of workers age 16 to 24 and 9% of workers age 25 to 34 are union members. In spite of these low numbers, millennials have generally favorable opinions of organized labor. Now, they are also beginning to organize.
A recent article in The Atlantic magazine examines the question of whether millennials can actually save unions. It examines the attitudes of millennial employees toward unions and what it means for these employees and the labor movement..
Organizing efforts for younger works have been hampered by their employment in high turnover businesses and a lack of awareness of unions and what they do. As a result, these workers may dismiss joining a union or consider union membership as a possibility in their workplaces.
Signs that this attitude is changing have begun to show, particularly in technology-based industries. In June 2015 employees of Gawker Media voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East, becoming the first new media company employees to organize.
Will the other employees follow the lead of their colleagues at Gawker? Prior to the vote, Steven Greenhouse, the former labor reporter for The New York Times, wrote “If the unionization effort succeeds, it will be a big PR boost for the ailing labor movement. It will show that unions, which have focused in recent years on organizing low-wage workers, can also attract hip, highly educated workers, many of them Ivy League graduates.”
While other employees have not rushed to line up to join the union, some are beginning to take the step. The editorial staff of Salon organized, as have workers with other employers. As The Atlantic article stated, “[T]he Gawker staff’s inclination is echoed in stirrings in other sectors over the last couple years. This March, unions representing graduate students at NYU won a historic contract to secure health coverage, pay raises, and funds for child and family healthcare; the victory followed years of challenges to NYU grad students’ rights since they first won the right to unionize in 2001.”
In August 2015, workers at Google Express voted to join Teamsters Local 853, which also organized shuttle drivers from Apple, Yahoo, and eBay. These employees reached out to the union due to low pay and a desire to improve working conditions.
Can millennials save the labor movement? It is too early to judge their overall impact, but the potential should make unions more optimistic. In addition to the new membership unions have already received, younger workers have more positive views of the labor movement than do their older colleagues. We will take a look at those perceptions in an upcoming blog entry.
What should this mean to your employer? Whether they are organized or not, you workforce is (or will be) getting younger. The needs and interests of these employees must be considered. Employee engagement efforts provide a way to include younger employees as part of the work process and hear their opinions.
Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee can help your organization with this process. We can help you build an employee engagement process or increase the effectiveness of your existing efforts. Contact us to learn more.