Skip to main content

Dispatches: What You Need to Know About the State of Our Unions

News and notes from Pacific Standard staff and contributors.
Inside the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington.

Inside the Boeing factory in Everett, Washington.

This week we launched a series that looks at the state of organized labor across the United States. Today, the footprint of unions has shrunk dramatically due to both the general decline of traditionally unionized private-sector industries in this country and more concerted efforts to weaken unions. However, through our in-depth looks at unions, "alt-labor" groups, and much more, we crafted a more nuanced and complex narrative of worker organizing in the 21st century than is generally disseminated. The worker in the 21st century may be down, but they're not out:

  • Songwriters are struggling to get fair compensation for their work. They are non-unionized and are dependent on largely outdated models of royalties payments that came long before the streaming-music era. We spoke to the people who have written some major hits about the future of this profession.
  • Why have unions struggled to gain a similar foothold in America as their counterparts in Europe? Contributing writer Dwyer Gunn spoke to labor experts about the differences between the two situations, and why some of the differences may be intractable.
  • Associate editor Elena Gooray spoke with the president of California's largest teachers' labor group, Eric Heins, about collaborations between charters and unions, the momentum for teachers' unions since the West Virginia walkouts, and what it would really mean for public school systems to make charters "irrelevant."
  • A round-up of the strikes and protests organized by educators around the country who are frustrated with low pay and gutted school budgets.
  • A conversation with Rutgers University professor Janice Fine about what you need to know about the "alt-labor" groups that are filling the voids left by shrinking unions.
  • Staff writer Francie Diep looks at the comparative status and treatment of workers at two Boeing factories that sit on opposite sides of the country, one of which is unionized while the other is not.
  • Editorial assistant Jack Denton spoke with two members of the Teamsters about the incipient threat of autonomous vehicles on the trucking industry.
  • Twelve photos that show the evolution of the U.S. labor movement from the early 1900s to today.

This dispatch originally appeared in The Lede, the weekly Pacific Standard email newsletter for premium members. The Lede gives premium members greater access to Pacific Standard stories, staff, and contributors in their inbox every week. While helping to support journalism in the public interest, members also receive a print magazine subscription, early access to feature stories, and access to an ad-free version of