Trade Unions recruiting in service sector in UK and USA.

Trade unions recruiting in service industries in UK and USA.

A recent comparison of hotel pay in London and New York shows that  cleaners working for the same global hotels, have different pay rates. The New York cleaners earn roughly 3 times the London cleaners. How can this be so?

Some London cleaners are on the national minimum wage at £6.31 per hour in Park Lane. In New York’s Park Avenue the wage is £17.66 per hour. This produces an estimated annual wage of £32,159.00.

British trade unions recruit about 2% to 4% of hotel workers. American trade unions recruit  70% of hotel workers. This appears to be an answer to the above question. Put differently, being a member of a trade union has a big influence on wage levels.  All this raises the question as to why American unions are so successful relative to British unions?

One measure of union success in recruiting members in a workforce is the “Density” measure. Density measures the number of union members as a percentage of all employees. For the last half of the 20th century British unions hovered around 40%. This started to reduce in the 1980’s. In the 21st century it varies between 20% and 29%: in common with 9 other West European countries.

Falling density in Britain had much to do with decline in heavy industry starting in the 1980’s.  But service industries have always been less unionised than manufacturing. Unions in Britain have always found it harder to recruit in banks, insurance, retail, and hotels. So, why do American unions do better?

Density in America was 20.1% in 1983; but only 11.3% in 2013. If one focuses on the service sector only, in 2013 American density was below 7%. This is not so different from the British figures of 2% to 4%.

However, one major difference is that American unions have a long history of coalitions with activists on immigration rights, trade policies, health care, and the living wage movement. Further, recent increases in recruiting are largely in the service sector in the West Coast.

Perhaps this American tradition could be copied in Britain. Campaigns over Low Pay already exist, but much closer relations with activist groups remain to be created and fostered!


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