Millennials offer unions huge, tough opportunity

By Steve Vairma

If the labor movement can eventually achieve a goal that has in more than two decades become almost illusory, the unions will be able to survive and the American workforce will be the beneficiaries.

If the unions were successful, there would be no more talk of wage stagnation, wage theft and other examples of workplace exploitation. The phony promises of politicians would be forgotten.

The diminishment of U.S. private sector labor unions from about 35 percent in the 1950s to about eight percent today would end as labor union membership would once again reach high levels.

The long term key to labor’s survival is to organize the unorganized, and the largest unorganized group today is the Millennials, those young men and women born after 2001, the largest U.S. generation living today. Some 49 percent of them are Hispanic, and they now account for about 36 percent of the American workforce.

Here are some Millennial statistics:

  • They have $1 trillion in student debt. The average member of Gen Y carries $45 000 in debt.
  • Unemployment rate of 16.3.
  • Six in 10 Millennials have jobs, half are part-time
  • 284,000 American college graduates working in minimum-wage jobs in 2012.
  • 48 percent of employed college graduates work in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree.
  • 50 percent do not believe that Social Security will exist when they reach their retirement age.
  • Average student carries $12,700 in credit-card and other kinds of debt.
  • More tolerant of races and groups than older generations (47 percent vs. 19 percent), with 45 percent agreeing with preferential treatment to improve the position of minorities.
  • Millennials account for 36 percent of the U.S. workforce and by 2025, they will account for 75 percent of the global workplace.
  • 41 percent of Millennials do what their managers tell them to do, which is greater than older generations.
  • Interested in high tech, sometimes preoccupied with it.
  • They elected a president – 60 percent voted for Obama in 2012, 66 percent in Millennials will be 40 percent of the electorate by 2020.
  • In 2008, 48 million Millennials (those born between 1978 and 2000) were eligible to vote, and 25 million actually did.
  • Younger Americans are most progressive (56.6) on cultural and social values and the least progressive on economic and domestic policy (53.1).

Some observers believe Millennials are more caring and community oriented than previous generations. Others say they are entitled and narcissistic. They have mastered social media. Some 75 percent have created a profile on a social networking site.

Most Millennials prefer part-time jobs and flexible work schedules; they change jobs frequently, and some say they are not particularly loyal to their employers. For those reasons they probably sacrifice job security and some income, which they may not value as much their preceding generations.

So there it is. The labor movement’s goal for the future. The unions must design an organizing plan that would appeal to this generation, one unlike any of its predecessors — the Greatest, the Silent, Baby Boomers and GenX Generations, and it won’t be easy.

But we can figure it out.

Steve Vairma is Secretary-Treasurer of Local 455 in Denver, President of Joint Council 3 and Western Region Director for the Teamsters Warehouse Division. He has been a Teamster since 1982.

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