One of the most common arguments advanced in defense of the so-called Employee Free Choice Act is that union membership levels are kept unfairly low by employer intimidation. No matter how widespread this phenomenon is (and our research using National Labor Relations Board data indicates that only 2.7 percent of union organizing campaigns feature an employee illegally fired and offered reinstatement, typically with back pay), of course, stripping employees of their rights to a secret ballot (as EFCA would do) isn’t going to help. Union rolls are likely to swell, but only because EFCA opens the door for massive amounts of union intimidation of employees.
A recently unearthed study helps support the idea that America’s largely non-union (92.6% of the private sector, at last count) workforce isn’t hungering to pay union dues. In a 1992 paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research ($5 to download from NBER), economists Henry Farber and Alan Krueger found that “virtually all the decline in union membership in the United States between 1977 and 1991 is due to a decline in worker demand for union representation.” Interestingly, Farber and Krueger also found that “all of the higher unionization rate in the U.S. public sector in 1984 can be accounted for by higher demand for unionization and that there is actually more frustrated demand for union representation in the public sector.” This second finding seems to have been borne out in the last several years by the continuing expansion of unions in the public sector, even as their private-sector counterparts shrink.