Latest Report on Union Density Finds a Finger Hold on the Cliff

16-union-difference-chart-frontNew Orleans   The top-line numbers from the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report on union membership density in the United States for 2015 indicate little change, sort of a “no news is good news” kind of story. Private sector density continued to suck at 6.7% of all private employment, but that was a slight improvement over an even worse figure in 2014. Public sector density was over one-third of all public workers at 35.2%. Membership was slightly higher in absolute terms in the private sector with both over 7 million workers, and the total union membership was almost 15 million members, which isn’t what any of us would want, but is still something to work with. Half-empty or half-full, that’s where we stand.

A closer look at the numbers continues to be disheartening. The states beating the averages are still bi-coastal with some hunkering down in the Midwest with the south east and south central states all below the median numbers with many of them at the bottom of the barrel. Five states had total union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2015: South Carolina (2.1 percent), North Carolina (3.0 percent), Utah (3.9 percent), Georgia (4.0 percent), and Texas (4.5 percent). Arkansas and Louisiana for example were both in the 6% range for total union membership density. Nationally the rate is over 11%. None of that is encouraging.

Union workers continue to make considerably more than non-union workers, but that does not seem to drive robust recruitment. The BLS figures have non-union workers making about 79% of union rates.

Adding to their list of challenges, part-time workers are still stepchildren in the labor movement. The union membership rate was 12.2 percent for full-time workers, more than twice the rate for part-time workers at 5.9 percent. Such workers are being gigged hard.

If you are looking for opportunity and challenges there are some sectors that are literally crying for unions. Low unionization rates occurred in agriculture and related industries (1.2 percent) of course, finance (1.3 percent) which is also hardly a surprise either, food services and drinking places (1.5 percent) despite the extensive fight for $15 effort, and professional and technical services (1.7 percent) where Silicon Valley types, doctors, lawyers, and Indian chiefs all get a free ride. Leisure and hospitality in general went down to 3.6% which really hurts since there are more than 12 million workers in that sector. Healthcare and social services, where there are 17 million employed, almost held its own at 8.3% which is close to 1 of every 12 private sector workers in are union members. Retail and wholesale trade where there are more than 18 million workers was even worse with barely over 5% in unions, so there’s a lot of opportunity there at least on paper.

Commentators pointed out the obvious on this year’s numbers, though that didn’t make it less painful to hear as they moaned that time – and money – were running out. Loss of union shop protections for public sector workers could drain the coffers of many unions and decimate organizing resources. As the Service Employees have demonstrated, campaigns like the McDonalds and Fight for $15 effort where they have spent millions for years without the realization of any membership gain, require huge capital being spent now hoping to find the interest later. Few unions are willing to do that, and the 2015 numbers indicate that even fewer every year may be able.

We still have a finger hold, but we’re hanging by a hair and dangling over a cliff. Don’t look down!


Stopping Automatic Deductions from Bleeding Your Accounts

000af39b-642New Orleans   Ok, you all know how this works. If you have a credit card or a bank account you are standing in line for this problem and under assault by all of your creditors to please, please allow them to directly access your financial accounts to pay for their services. With the advent of online commerce and banking there are many people, and yes, most of them are under 35 who don’t even have a checkbook and pay everything online. Cash is something they only find on the floor in public places. At the same time many online based services will only allow you access with your account information, and it often makes good common sense that that is the way it should be.

Me, I’m old school, and I’m a cash flow guy, not a balance the bank statement guy. Ok, there are whole years that have gone by when I haven’t opened the bank statement envelopes, and, yes, I make them keep sending them to me. My bank statement was last balanced in 1979 or so by a co-worker. Thanks, Sue! With a shoddy system like mine, I avoid ever agreeing to any automatic deductions for anything. Period. Unless, I have absolutely no choice.

But, then I started taking care of my now 92-year old mother’s finances a bit over a year ago and having to actually try to make heads and tails of her credit card and bank statements. Yikes! Nothing criminal. Nothing that would leave her on the street, but plenty of nickel and dime stuff. The old book publisher’s hustle that had to be stopped. Magazine subscriptions she never would read. Some Adobe business hit which was incredibly hard to stop and ended with me cancelling the credit card on their unhelpful hustle, but all of it predatory.

Gyms must be the about the worst. I hear my daughter’s friends talk about their gym “donations,” where they are trapped in many monthly payments even though they long since stopped going. One gym practiced what we call a “maintenance of membership” system in the labor movement. They required a 30-day notice before the end of your one-year commitment, and if you missed by a minute, bam, you were sucked in for another year. If you wanted to suspend your membership and take a leave, you had to do so “in the window” and pay them $75 to handle the transaction. Geez, no union rep ever managed to negotiate that!

Ron Lieber, the personal finance columnist for The New York Times reported what might be a money-saver for the inattentive and forgetful, meaning almost all of us! It’s a free service called Trim. Lieber says “it does not intend to sell any data. Instead, it wants to gather a customer base for a … personal finance assistant” that would specialize in nudging you in hopefully better financial directions and decisions. Trim agrees to look at your bank statement and credit card bills to find recurring charges, and you check a box if you want out, and, bam, they’re on it and get the charges stopped.

The five most frequently cancelled in Trim’s experience were: Experian, Planet Fitness, TransUnion, Gogo Air, and Audible. One gym and two credit services in that crowd. There’s some irony on the credit folks isn’t there? They tell you how your credit is doing and then join the nickel-and-dime predators in sucking up your cash. Trim also reports that Experian is playing whack-a-mole with them every couple of weeks in order to make cancelling their rip-and-run system harder on the service. Gogo Air is a wireless airplane deal and I’m clueless on Audible. The least canceled are Dropbox, Spotify, GitHub, Google, and Netflix. All of this reminds me of the AOL email service that continues to collect significant revenue from people who signed up online and still continue to have payments deducted years later for a service that has been free for many years now as well.

Me, I still recommend do-it-yourself. Allows you to get your rage on and hang up the phone feeling like you won one for the team, including perhaps your dear old mom. But that’s me in an odd moment where there’s no foul called for rudeness in righting a simple injustice. Rationally though, that’s mostly a waste of time and energy added to the money drain, so something like Trim could be a deal worth taking, especially if you don’t really read your statements as I’ve already confessed.