Union membership in South Dakota receding as private-sector workforce expands
Ahead of Labor Day weekend, private unions report fewest numbers in decades
When he was 19, Duwayne Wohlleber landed what was considered a plum job in the early 1970s at the John Morrell plant in Sioux Falls.
Positions there were hard to come by, required solid references and a bit of luck.
Despite the exclusivity, Wohlleber came to realize that workers at the plant needed protection, and that led him to join the same union that represented thousands of Sioux Falls meatpacking employees who came before and after him.
Now, with nearly 50 years of unionized work under his belt, Wohlleber told The Dakota Scout ahead of this year’s Labor Day weekend that the need for organized labor unions remains – especially in the meatpacking industry.
“There are certain areas that function really well without a union,” said Wohlleber, whose 40-plus-year career at the Sioux Falls plant included its purchase by current owner Smithfield Foods. “They have caring and compassionate bosses. There are other industries that should always have a union because they take advantage of their workers.”
Following his retirement, and as the former president of the South Dakota AFL-CIO who now performs consultant work, he’s watched firsthand as the role of unions in the U.S. workforce has declined.
According to federal labor statistics, fewer workers are taking Wohlleber’s path in the labor movement.
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