Following the enactment of the NLRA in 1935, American Federation of Labor craft unions had difficulty organizing persons employed in manufacturing industries since most failed to fit within the jurisdictions of particular unions. The AFL formed the Committee for Industrial Organization to determine how best to organize these workers, and this Committee ultimately withdrew from the AFL and formed the Congress of Industrial Organizations. The CIO unions quickly organized the industrial workers in the steel, automobile, electrical manufacturing, and rubber industries. By the late 1950s, 35 percent of private sector employees were union members. As the United States economy began to transition from manufacturing to post-industrial white collar and service, union membership began a steady decline. By 2005, it was under 8 percent.
Unions continue to employ blue collar appeals to organize new-age, twenty-first century employees. If labor organizations are to regain their previous vitality, they need to form new entities that will appeal to white-collar workers in retail, insurance, finance, health care, and similar occupations. The Change-to-Win Coalition recently broke away from the AFL-CIO with the goal of spending more money to organize modern workers. These entities need to create new professional associations that will appeal to new-age workers who view traditional union membership as unprofessional. They need to reflect the hopes and aspirations of the people they are endeavoring to organize. If labor organizations fail to adjust, they will become almost irrelevant institutions.
GW Paper Series
GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 281; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 281
Charles B. Craver, The Labor Movement Needs a Twenty-First Century Committee for Industrial Organization, 23 Hofstra Lab. & Emp. L.J. 69 (2005).