How Millennials Are Reviving The Labor Movement

The labor movement that gave rise to strong labor unions is on the decline. People are recognizing that the original reasons for unions – employer favoritism in the promotion process, low wages, child labor, lack of employee benefits and means for employee input – are now addressed by employers like you, as well as by laws and regulations. Your employees have a loud voice through agencies like the EEOC and the Labor Relations Board, as well as social media. Yet there are millennials trying to revive the labor movement, begging the question, “What do millennials believe unions can deliver that they can’t get without them?”

Activists Organize to Pursue Goals

Economics is one reason millennials are turning to unions. The Great Recession struck just as they were ready to begin careers, forcing them to postpone starting a family and buying their first house. Many assumed large student loans, impacting their financial status for decades, and are finding work environments that favor independent contractors and part-time workers. At the same time, millennials are activists in social and environmental causes and are using social media to force companies to accept their economic, environmental and social responsibilities.

Modern organizing tactics are instrumental in bringing cause-minded millennials together to promote unionization, but as an employer, you can use the same communication strategy as unions to keep unions out. Millennials have taken up the causes of poverty, pollution, minimum wage, employer benefits, discrimination, immigration and a host of other economic, social and environmental justice interests. They see employees in the services and manufacturing industries joining unions to pursue change and solidarity, a goal that appeals to an activist generation. Yet the interests of millennials are the same as yours, as an employer who cares about your staff and the impact of your business in the marketplace.

Awaiting a Verdict

All employers and unions are waiting to see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the Janus v. AFSCME case concerning the payment of agency fees in the public sector. If the court rules in favor of Janus, the unions have a serious problem. They’ll lose millions in revenue unless they can convince millennials to join in larger numbers. Although the unionization rate of employed people ages 25 to 34 has dropped less than one percent since 2006 (11.1 percent to 10.4 percent), union membership overall is declining due to older workers dropping out of unions, a trend that will continue with an aging population. Union membership for employed people ages 45 to 54 declined from 16.0 percent in 2006 to 13.3 percent in 2016. Unions desperately need millennials.

However, your reality is that unions still exist and will accept any type of worker in any type of profession. Millennials involved in unions view them as expert organizers and change agents, not just workplace negotiators. Larry Williams is a millennial and president of the Progressive Workers Union, which represents field employees of the Sierra Club. Aware that products that use technology to address millennial interests appeal to the digital generation, he developed UnionBase, a digital platform that allows union (and nonunion) workers to connect in virtual space. Yvonne Walker, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 1000 in California, also offers insight into successful union strategies. She says today’s unions talk “values” – such as promoting universal healthcare and fighting systemic racism – rather than endorsing political parties.

Millennials Negatives of Unions

Keeping Millennials Happy

Millennials believe in promoting the rights of people in all demographics. Paul Nappier, millennial organizer for the Service Employees International Union Local 1 in Indianapolis, focuses on the issues affecting his union members, including income disparities, racism, bias in promotions and protection of undocumented family members.

There are many things you as an employer can do to attend to workplace issues that concern millennials. By developing unbiased Human Resources processes, strengthening employee engagement, responding to specific employee concerns, creating effective employee communication systems, developing equitable salary and benefits schedules, explaining the pros and cons of unions to your employees and training your leaders to effectively manage without bias, you can ensure an engaged, contented workforce. Show your employees that you prioritize the value of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). As millennials demonstrate interest in reviving the labor movement, it is in your best interest to address their concerns in order to avoid unionization.

About the author

Jennifer Orechwa

In over 25 years of helping companies connect with their employees, Jennifer has gained a unique perspective on what it takes to build a UnionProof culture. By blending a deep understanding of labor and employee relations with powerful digital marketing knowledge, Jennifer has helped thousands of companies achieve behavioral change at a cultural level.