Consider those striking fast food workers you’ve been reading about, the ones calling for a $15 an hour wage. Their numbers are not counted in the union membership figures. How about those Wal-Mart workers who struck for Black Friday and just won a key court case? Uncounted. What about the day laborers who joined any one of hundreds of workers’ centers nationwide? You got it, not included. Neither are the restaurant workers, home health care workers, taxi drivers or domestic workers, all of whom are organizing for workplace power outside traditional unions.

Why are these labor activists uncounted? The BLS bases its union membership numbers on the Current Population Survey (CPS). Every month, the government asks about 15,000 people whether they are union members or members of an employee association like a union. The people who went on strike at McDonald’s for a day, or who joined a local workers’ center, will almost certainly say “no” to this question, because they don’t pay union dues or aren’t covered by a contract. The government’s questions have no place for these workers who are part of a new breed of “alt-labor” groups leveraging workplace power outside the realm of collective bargaining —such as through worker centers, labor coalitions, or the three million members of the AFL-CIO’s Working America. In addition, the government union numbers exclude people who report they are self-employed. In todays’ economy, that could easily mean day laborers and domestic workers who are part of new labor groups.
Why Alt-Labor Groups Are Making Employers Mighty Nervous