Queen's University IRC

The Path to Success for Organized Labour


Derik McArthur
Director, United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) local 175 & 633

April 4, 2016

The Path to Success for Organized LabourLabour unions are at a critical time in history. Unions are working to engage the current membership and exploring new innovative communication strategies that are needed to reach the younger generation in a meaningful way. Gone are the days of the bulletin board as the primary sources of union news and updates. People are busy and it’s a challenge to draw the membership out to a meeting. It was not too long ago when local arenas were filled to capacity to hear the local union president address the membership. Email, text message, Twitter and Facebook are popular forms of communication in the fast-paced world of work, and the membership is demanding multiple communication platforms to access. Contrary to popular belief, union members are interested in their union; they simply don’t have the time to participate in the traditional model that is in place, the membership meeting.

Like many organizations, unions are in a time of change and transformation.  As stated by Littlemore (2013), union membership is “pretty close to what it was 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years ago.” (p. 1). Many factors affect the decline of union membership and according to Tattersall (2008), these factors include “international economic competition, anti-union legislation and a shift in local industries from unionized manufacturing to non-union services” (p. 416). Although union membership as a whole has remained constant, the numbers require further investigation. Littlemore (2013) confirms private sector union density has been on a constant decline. With a lens on the private sector unions, a more focused examination is required to understand the decline, what factors may be contributing to the drop in membership, as well as what unions can do to reverse this trend.

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