Unions: Times Are Changing

Larry Price
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Wednesday - March 23, 2011
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The composition of employees in the workplace is changing. There is a new generation of workers in or waiting to join the work force - the Millennials, who were born after 1976 and until recently were called Generation Y.

The PEW Research Center found that Millennials are the most highly educated of all generations in the workplace to date. Its research found that 54 percent had college degrees. Other characteristics of the Millennial generation are their tendency to embrace technology and change, higher degrees of trust in unknown situations, higher degrees of optimism in future wage earning, higher tendency for multiple job changes throughout their career, and a more-favorable opinion of business than previous generations.

What does all this mean to union leaders, and are they listening?

The reason it’s significant is because the values of the Millennial generation put them in a less-likely position to embrace union membership. This all comes at a time when union membership is declining and public tolerance of union activities is dwindling.


According to a 2009 Gallup poll on unions and public opinion, approval ratings for public unions have seen a steep decline in recent years. In 2009, union approval ratings reached an all-time low of 48 percent, compared to 75 percent in 1957. The same survey showed an increase in the number of respondents who felt unions generally hurt their employers and the economy.

Union leaders should be impressed with any numbers the Gallup poll produces. In an environment where unions are less effective and losing public support, union recruitment and retention may be a harder sell.

And technological advances have changed the face of the modern work-place. Understanding what will happen to the work force of the future is key. Advances in technology have changed labor’s demand, because the skill sets required to do the same job have changed.

Simply put, advances in technology create an unstable platform for unions to contend with, and they’re probably not in a position to dictate many of the management decision within the organizations of tomorrow.

So why write about the Millennial generation?

I read a March 13 Honolulu Star-Advertiser story about five Hawaii robotics teams on the Mainland that was billed as Science and Technologies’ March Madness. One of the five teams from Hawaii was from Waialua High School, who beat out all comers in the New York City Regional competition! In doing so, the Waialua team earned the competition’s top honors by being named the Chairman’s Award winner in addition to winning the field competition, beating out an impressive field of 65 competitors and earning a position at the World Championships (waialuarobotics.com).


Unions must combat their declining numbers by adapting their recruitment and communication strategies to engage the changing work force.

The new “Millennials” in Waialua are the face of that force.

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