Why the ‘Me Generation’ & Labor Unions Don’t Mix

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Why the ‘Me Generation’ & Labor Unions Don’t Mix

By Joe Kefauver, Align Public Strategies - 06/09/2016

Corporations and labor unions have a millennial problem.

The generation is now the largest population in America and their elders have not figured out how to win them over, hold their interest or keep their loyalty. Succeeding at all three is an elusive trifecta in human resources and recruitment. This is no small issue, and it brings to mind the saying about trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.  

The significant difference between corporations and labor unions dealing with this is that companies already have millennials in the door. They are just trying to make sure it’s not a revolving door. Unions, on the other hand, need to get 18- to 35-year-old workers in, period. Pick any door. Go through the front, the back, the cellar. They don’t care. Just join.

Getting them to do so is proving to be a much tougher task. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) kicked off a millennial recruiting campaign several years back. At the time, its total membership had been improving, but more recently it has declined.

Overall, union membership is at a historic low: only 11.1 percent of American workers overall and under 7 percent in the private sector. SEIU organized a campaign meant to identify and develop future leaders out of younger members, who can then go out and recruit their age group. This is a logical endeavor to strengthen SEIU. Arguably, it’s a survival tactic.

Strategists built a long-term campaign using a lot of the keywords and call-to-action phrases that motivate millennials. Visionary movements were launched against income inequality, racial profiling, student debt and a broken immigration system, enjoining the ongoing battles for broad economic and social justice.

By 2016, SEIU’s “Fight for 15” movement won major victories for minimum wage hikes, and the target words they tapped for recruiting activists and members mirrored the most popular platform for any presidential candidate trying to win over millennials. In fact, the oldest and most authentic candidate, Bernie Sanders, ended up being the person with the highest number of young voters.

What millennials say they want should be music to the ears of the SEIU. We know they are liberal. A Gallup poll showed 69 percent of millennials are willing to vote for a socialist to be commander-in-chief. That explains why so many young Democrats felt the Bern until the Bernie Sanders campaign ran low on fire toward the end of primary season, although it’s still smoldering. In Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, 80 percent of people under age 30 voted for Sanders.

Don’t credit the party, though, because around the same time, a poll showed younger voters are less likely to identify as Democrat or Republican than older generations. They reject institutions and the status quo, demand equality, and love to challenge authority.

A Harvard University study showed 51 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds do not support capitalism and only 42 percent support it. The Washington Post points out it is possible millennials do not fully understand what capitalism really is and if they did, they would be more supportive.

Isn’t it interesting that the age group that has never really seen or experienced socialism in action has a much higher opinion of it than older generations that have experienced it?

Here’s a headline unions can’t get enough of: “Millennials View Labor More Favorably than Older Generations.” Unions get 57 percent favorability among millennials, compared to 42 percent for Gen X and 41 percent for baby boomers. Those statistics came from the reputable Pew Research Center. Reading that, it’s easy to think the tide has shifted to labor. Sure, opinions about unions have improved, but the headline always leaves out part of the story. The same Pew report says millennials also have more positive views of large corporations and financial institutions, a steady improvement over the last five years.

If you’re keeping track, one reputable study found millennials don’t like capitalism and another one shows their opinion of banks and big businesses is improving. Told you they’re tough to pin down.

Overall, the circumstances must sound perfect to SEIU leadership, primed for a surge in membership from the most coveted generation. The reality is their strategy to win them over will never work for the same reason Jell-O is impossible to pin down.

They’ve been called the “Me Generation.” From what I’ve seen, they are the “All About Me Generation.” The vast majority of them want what is good for them in the end, not what is truly in the interest of a larger group. Not only is it about them, but it is about what is good for them right now. That characteristic reveals itself time and time again at work, home and in communities.  

It’s why 25-year-olds say they are in favor of higher health insurance premiums that would help more poor people, right up until they turn 26 and can’t be on mom and dad’s insurance plan anymore and have to pay themselves.

It’s why companies from Wall Street to Main Street are trying so hard to slow this job-hopping generation’s desire to quit for new employment if climbing the ladder doesn’t happen at the unreasonable speed they decided is right. They exude self-confidence and workforce entitlement.

What part of these traits fit the SEIU model? When was the last time you met a millennial who felt content about having all the skills for a promotion, but not getting it because a fellow union member with more seniority and fewer skills wanted the job?

Show me a millennial who’s honestly willing to join an organization for job protection only to find out, as the youngest member, they will still be the first to go in the event of layoffs. How many of them will be willing to pay into a pension plan that has a shaky future, if any?    

The “All About Me Generation” is happy to join an activist movement to fight for a higher minimum wage, but those are not the jobs they’re willing to take in the first place. Let’s say they did accept a $15-an-hour job. Do you honestly think they would accept paying a percentage of that money to a union that assumes control of future bargaining?

The system is not set up to be transparent and accepting of younger input. That clashes with the ideologies of a group with more education than older generations. Right to Work laws in several states speak more to a generation that does not want to pay for anything they don’t have to.

Until the SEIU proves young activists are truly sticking around to become paying union members, my money is on the Jell-O.

Editor’s note:  The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News