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Once a union metropolis, Valley sees that title fade

Published: Sun, November 6, 2011 @ 12:01 a.m.

RELATED: Higher voter turnout predicted

By Karl Henkel



Gary Davenport admits his story isn’t unique.

He grew up in Youngstown as a child of an autoworker; his father has been an auto-assembler and member of United Auto Workers Local 1112 at the General Motors Co. Lordstown plant since 1976.

But Davenport himself has never worked as a union member, private or public.

His work in information technology and, later, in higher education never warranted union participation, which felt a bit foreign to Davenport in the early days of his career.

“I was pretty young, and my job was so different from my father’s,” he said. “I didn’t have a good concept of working without a union.”

And while Davenport’s story may not be anything special, it does represent the monumental shift that has taken place in the Mahoning Valley during the past 20 years.

Children who grew up in union-led households are more likely to work nonunion jobs. It’s especially true for those with parents or grandparents who worked in the private sector.

The Valley, once a union metropolis, is seeing that title fade away. In these days of the debate over Issue 2/Senate Bill 5, union support is one way to determine likely outcomes.

Issue 2, if passed, would curb some collective-bargaining rights for public employees.

The trend, however, is tilted away from union membership.

In 1990, one in three area workers — both private and public sector — was a union employee.

In the private sector, which has and always will outnumber its public-sector counterparts, about 33 percent were union employees.

In the public sector, nearly half belonged to a union.

Twenty years later, the landscape has changed.

Nearly half of public-sector workers belong to unions, but in the private sector, that number drops to 10 percent.

It’s had a profound impact on the total percentage of union members as a percentage of the overall population.

In 2010, according to a UnionStats.com study by Barry Hirsch, Georgia State University and David Macpherson, Trinity University, just 13 percent of the Valley’s working population belongs to a union.

It’s been the same nationwide, where in 1990, 11.9 percent of private-sector workers were unionized, compared with just 6.9 percent in 2010.

During that same time period, public-sector unionization numbers haven’t changed; in fact, they’ve remained steady at about 36 percent for the past 30 years.

Lockwood Reynolds, assistant professor of economics at Kent State University, said the auto-manufacturing landscape is one of the best examples as to why private-sector union rates have shrunk.

“In it’s heyday, there was the Big Three and the only three, practically,” said Reynolds, referring to Detroit automakers General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group, LLC. “There was a monopoly-type power.”

But as foreign auto manufacturers started inundating U.S. consumers, the competition grew, and the industry power weakened.

“When you have more competition within industries and it makes it more competitive and more difficult to unions to bargain and negotiate,” Reynolds said.

Auto manufacturing, or any manufacturing industry, is still heavily unionized, but the industry has become much more automated, and the overall workforce has dropped.

The United Auto Workers has gone from a record-high 1.5 million members in 1979 to fewer than 400,000 in 2010.

In the Valley, the GM Lordstown plant employed about 12,000 in the 1970s; it is home to about 4,500 employees today.

“Technology has made it easier to produce the same volume that we did in the 60s and 70s with more people,” said Jim Graham, president of UAW Local 1112, who said membership is one third of the level it was 25 years ago.

“A lot of our work was shipped overseas,” he said. “Those were the people that were organized.”

Another factor at play: women in the work force.

Reynolds said as jobs opened up after World War II, women scooped those up in droves, but opted for nonunionized jobs.

At the same time, however, public-sector unions percentages have remained constant because of the non competitiveness.

Reynolds said as long as increased competition and international trade and deregulation continue, the percentage of union workers in the private sector is unlikely to change.

“There could be a time in the future where there could be a rise again,” he said. “But if none of that stuff is going to change, then there’s no reason to expect an increase in private sector unionization.”


1jkf573(12 comments)posted 4 years ago

This is a pretty good article, and it makes a good point. Union viability is a function of the ability of union labor to compete. Where competition is a non-issue, as in the public sector, unions are protected and can survive as long as voters are willing to pay for them. In the private sector, union share is dropping because union employees find it harder to compete. This makes the solution rather obvious: make American industry more competitive and the demand for labor will rise. As demand rises, prices (wages) will naturally rise. As this happens, unions will make more sense for more private sector workers and will be able to bargain effectively for a bigger share of a bigger pie.

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2chuck_carney(499 comments)posted 4 years ago

The key phrase in the above post is ''make American industry more competitve." This implies the implementtation of more laws and regulations tinkering with the free market system. President O'bama recently signed three trade agreements and more will be on the way. It's amazing how many union workers I see at Wal-mart buying Chinese and foreign made goods. Timmie Ryan's and Sherrie Brown's buy American mantra is not working. We as a country (including union members) like paying lower prices without regard to our fellow American's employment situation.

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3timOthy(802 comments)posted 4 years ago

Though we can't deny Tecnology we can still organize and stand together. To feed our families and provide for them. I never work inside much maybe 6 months. Then I left Ohio and got into the Building Trades who build these place or factories. Then the keys are handed over. The UAW have caused most of there problems. 1ST it started with Importing Foreign Steel to build cars in the late 60"s. Then use (SCAB) Plastic to do the inside. So UAW I can't feel sorry your membership because you have decreased it all by yourself. And don't give me hind sight either. It was the 60's and Union were strong. You were scamming and now you paying. The Steel Workers still hold a grudge. As do the building Trades ! Look at you Rat house that you live in. Do you call a Union Electrician,Plumber.Roofer or Carpenter to do work at your home ? An you wonder why people drive foreign cars !!!!! You made YOUR bed NOW SLEEP IN IT !!!

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4whitesabbath(738 comments)posted 4 years ago

Question for the day,

How many mobsters can you pick out of the pic?

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5kensgirl(925 comments)posted 4 years ago

It all comes down to the almighty dollar. Al Capone said it best - "Whatever will bring in the most money will happen". Unions were so much a part of our culture but it's cheaper to buy foerign. That's the bottom line. I still believe in unions no matter what. When I look back at the history when we didn't have any it's pretty frightening. Working conditions were awful and a man would get off work and instead of a paycheck he'd find a pink slip. How could he feed his family then? The day we see unions disapappear is the day this country is really shot to hell.

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6jethead11(139 comments)posted 4 years ago

Like I've said, unions only thrive when competition is limited to protect them, like in the public sector. It's NOT an American value to give people less options, but there are some that think we should just so unions can survive. If unions want to survive, they need to compete for the workers' dues, not force dues from them. But union leaders for the most part are Socialists at best and don't understand this (or care to understand it).

Issue 2 is important because it takes away the monopoly power of the public sector unions. Look at the scare tactics the unions have used. Do you think they should lie to people for their own selfish economic gains (with YOUR money)? Send the union bosses a message on Tuesday!

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7UnionForever(1470 comments)posted 4 years ago

***Yes on Issue 2***

End the monopoly of public unions as we know them today! Bring fairness back to Ohio.

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8faith(200 comments)posted 4 years ago

As unions have disappeared, so have workers wages and workers rights. The downfall of the UAW was not taking the foreign transplants seriously. Just so everyone knows, every foreign transplant that builds autos here in the USA recognizes organized labor in their home country. Its only here in America that they can build cars with no organized labor. You can thank the GOP and republicants for this and ultimately destroying the workers in America.

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9faith(200 comments)posted 4 years ago

jethead, 36% is a monopoly?

The only lie is the one you are telling. Unions protect workers and their rights. They are not socialist, or greedy, or lazy, or inept, or whatever. They are just like people that are everyplace else. Most just want to put in a good days work for a good days pay.

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10LeoFibanacci(19 comments)posted 4 years ago

As the article states, the only reason public sector unions are still viable is because there isn't any competition for them. Maybe competition in that sector is what is needed. Bring down the costs of services to the citizens who foot the bill. The health care and pensions are far too generous and they will eventually either go bankrupt or raise taxes into the stratosphere to pay for them. Voting yes on 2 starts the ball rolling on reigning in those benefits that are just too costly.

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11jethead11(139 comments)posted 4 years ago

faith, the unions are a monopoly for those who are required to join them or lose their jobs if they don't. Do you think that's fair? Working people, for the most part, can take care of themselves and don't need someone to "negotiate" for them. That is why union membership is as low as it is. Regarding union lies, plenty to mention, but the line about that workers cannot talk to their boss about certain things is a total lie. That firefighters can't complain about needed equipment is a total lie. Read the law yourself and find out who's lying to you.

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12Attis(1031 comments)posted 4 years ago

Once upon a time, Youngstown was a union town with a bustling downtown and strong neighborhoods packed with working families. Now it is a poor house harboring the highest rate of concentrated poverty in the nation with a dead downtown and crime-ridden neighborhoods. Connection? You betcha. There is no middle class or democracy without a vibrant union movement. Youngstown is the poster child for what happens to a city when unions are dismantled. Time to heed the call of Joe Hill and stop mourning and start organizing.

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13southsidedave(5161 comments)posted 4 years ago

Youngstown is not unique in this respect...the United States has shifted from a primarily manufaucturing-based economy to a service-based economy and the jobs have shifted as well.

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14jethead11(139 comments)posted 4 years ago

Attis, if what you say is true, then the south and west, where there are no unions, would look like a third world country. Instead, the south and the west have been the fastest growing, most vibrant economies in the country with a strong middle class. Even in the Great Recession, these areas have grown and the middle class is strong, growing and upwardly mobile.

Youngstown is an example of unions running unchecked and wild. Just like Detroit, Camden, Gary, and other union towns, the unions would shut the city down to get what they want regardless of the long term effects. Youngstown is the poster child of the long term effects of greedy unionism. Youngstown does not need more of the same thing.

The problem with Joe Hill's argument is that not very many people are "mourning" the loss of unions. If anything, we are organizing against the union movement. And with 9% nationwide unemployment, that's a good thing.

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15300(573 comments)posted 4 years ago

The South and West have booming economies? You must not travel very often. In the South, Nashville, Atlanta, and Charlotte have wealth; but the vast majority of Southerners have a lower standard of living than those from any other region except for Appalachia.

The lack of unions is why we've seen stagnant PPPs for the working and middle class and a tripling of wealth for the upper class. The sad thing is that the GOP has convinced the middle class that their enemies are the poor and not those in finance and corporate leadership positions.

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16Superstar7(122 comments)posted 4 years ago

The Democrats know they still own NE Ohio. Why do anything for this area.
The Republicans know the local generational ignorance produces irrational Democrat votes, so why do anything for this area. Every vote for a Democrat severly harms this entire area. Proof? The realities of unionized NE Ohio as it now exist.
Stop the selfishness, help our area: YES to issue 2. Unionized government workers are receiving benefits beyond this area's ability to afford. Unionized workers...it is right, just & necessary for you to contribute to your mass benefits, necessary for you to compete. If you ignore the economic facts, we will increasingly ignore YOU! If Issue 2 is defeated, it WILL come back to beat reality into you, sooner or later!
If issue 2 is defeated, a groundswell will reject EVERY tax renewal, EVERY tax levy.

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17cambridge(3615 comments)posted 4 years ago

Faith and Attis hit the nail on the head. As union membership in the valley decreased so did the standard of living.

People are never forced be in a union. If an employer uses and negotiates with unions then union membership is a requirement of the company. People should not apply with those companies if they are not interested in union membership. Just work for the 90% of companies that are nonunion. It's a free country, if someone wants to belong to a union why is it any one's business?

I would just like to say in advance how proud I am of being from Ohio because the voters of Ohio will be defeating SB5 in the coming week.

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18Stan(9923 comments)posted 4 years ago

The liberals killed the unions by running off the jobs . THE BEST PART IS THAT THEY ARE LOVED FOR IT ! More welfare equates to less drudgery in working . Now to figure in how to up the taxes and the benefits without too much of a backlash from the conservatives . . . .. The Valley is number one and they aim to keep it at way . Can I say poverty ?

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19georgejeanie(1192 comments)posted 4 years ago

Vote YES on issue 2.

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20jethead11(139 comments)posted 4 years ago

Geromajor, no one doubts that unions HAD their place in society. Their place now is pretty much a fundraising arm of the Democrat party through forced dues.

As far as the southern businesses, you may want to take a trip south so you can learn a thing or two. Go visit the BMW plant in Greer, SC or the Kia plant in West Point, GA and tell me things are worse there. Heck, go to the Toyota plant outside Columbus. Do you see any of those workers clammering for unionization or walking around with their hands cut off?

Try telling us what unions are doing for workers and society TODAY and not 70 years ago when the movement was completely different. (I'll give you a hint - they are loosing jobs that were once occupied by middle class Americans).

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21jetercp(67 comments)posted 4 years ago

good job republicans, this is 110% your doing...
thanks for ruining our country guys, u couldnt have considered researching your candidates before you voted for them??? unreal...

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22DwightK(1458 comments)posted 4 years ago

If union membership is declining Republicans will have to find a new boogeyman. Preferably the corporate pirates who kill our cities by moving jobs overseas for bigger bonuses.

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23redvert(2197 comments)posted 4 years ago

jetercp "u couldnt have considered researching your candidates before you voted for them???" And you researched obowser before voting for him, ya right.

To add to jethead11's post, I spent my whole career working for a nonunion electronic firm in Florida and I now spend six months in Florida and six months in Ohio with two classic cars, rental warehouses in Florida and a 2010 pickup, ALL PAID FOR. So tell me how wages are so much lower in the South after you have paid your union dues and paid your heating bills in the winter. I compare my costs both in Ohio and in Florida so I know how they compare, do you? I advanced on my merits, not when Bubba who had one more day seniority kicked the bucket.

ps: Florida is a right to work state, this means you can form a union at your work place if the workers approve it. You DO NOT have to belong to a union to be employed at a certain job.

I hear the whining about how the company bosses make too much money. I don't hear any whining about how the union bosses are doing. Now I understand that you are not allowed to question their compensation but I just wondered if it bothers you?

Way back in the fifties my dad who was a steelworker was on a prolonged strike when my brother graduated from high school. My brother got a 1950 Ford ($150.00) which needed work for graduation. At the same time, the union rep who advised the workers to hold out for a few cents more bought his son a new 1958 Corvette. I guess he was special and his actions would not be questioned because the union rank and file does not question their gods!!!

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24Bigben(1996 comments)posted 4 years ago

"...make American industry more competitive and the demand for labor will rise.

- -"competitive" means low wages.

"As demand rises, prices (wages) will naturally rise." - -That is not necessarily the case.Demand can rise and wages can shrink.

You must realize their is no free market.The truth is Congress and our Presidents have sold out the workers of this country to multinationals who care not for workers over seas nor in this country but are profit driven only.Foreign junk gets dumped here free of charge but that is not the case with our stuff .

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25TonyL(44 comments)posted 4 years ago

You're Right, rudy56. The Youngstown Unions were a product of Gus Hall's Communist Party.

Then you have Walter Philip Reuther, who was fired from The Ford Motor Co. because he was found sleeping on the job while his brother covered for him. He and his brother went to Europe and then worked 1933-35 in an auto plant at Gorky in the Soviet Union. Unhappy with the lack of political freedom in Russia, Reuther and his brother returned to the United States where he found employment at General Motors and became an active member of the United Automobile Workers (UAW). In 1936 Reuther became president of tiny local 174 (with 100 members), which on paper had responsibility for 100,000 auto workers on the west side of Detroit, Michigan. After applying his Socialist Party views to the members of the UAW, Reuther led several strikes in 1937 and 1940 against Ford and GM. In the late 40's, he joined forces with Gus Hall, a Communist Party leader in Youngstown. Known as an Union Organizer, he along with Gus Hall, won political power in the Democrat Party. Gus Hall's plan was to run for the US Presidency using their power they had in the USSW and UAW Unions.

If Gus Hall won his bid for the Presidency today, the Democrat Party would be the USA Communist Party.

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26AnotherAverageCitizen(1176 comments)posted 4 years ago

"Detroit, Gary, Camden, and yes Youngstown"

Those are old steel mill towns that have never recovered. But if you still want to Blame the unions, go ahead. I hope that makes you better. Besides GM there are no other big unions in Ytown. Yes, some small ones in the public sectors, but all of Ohio have them.

My goodness quit blaming the UNIONS for everything. Unions make up only 12% of the workforce, how can 12% of the workforce be the cause of financial trouble for so many nonunion businesses that have gone under.

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