A Center for Economic and Policy Research study (full article here) says the percentage of unionized workers in the US ticked up slightly in 2007, from 12 to 12.1 percent, in addition of about 310,000 workers to the ranks of unions. The study was modest good news for unions, but decent gains of union workers in the health care industry were offset by significant losses in the manufacturing sector. Overall, the study is a mixed bag for unions, but any uptick in the number of union workers during the stridently anti-union Bush presidency is a victory for working people and an achievement union leadership can be proud of.
Union Rates Increase in 2007
January 25, 2008
By Ben Zipperer and John Schmitt
For the first time in the past quarter of a century, in 2007 U.S. unions increased their share of membership among workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) annual union membership report released today. Unions added about 310,000 members last year, raising the unionized share of the workforce to 12.1 percent from 12.0 percent in 2006.
The increase is small, and may well reflect statistical variation rather than an actual increase in the union membership share, but the uptick is striking because it is the first time since the BLS began collecting annual union membership rates in 1983 that the union share has increased.
. . .
In the private sector, which accounts for the bulk of employment in the economy, union membership gains varied by industry. Construction unions increased their membership faster than the rate of job growth in that industry, with membership jumping from 13.0 percent in 2006 to 13.9 percent in 2007. Membership in the private health and education sectors grew from 8.3 percent to 8.8 percent. Unions also made headway in the low-paying retail industry, increasing membership rates from 5.0 percent to 5.2 percent.
Manufacturing, however, continued to lose unionized jobs in 2007 faster than the sector’s overall decline in employment. Union membership in manufacturing fell to 11.3 percent in 2007 from 11.7 percent in 2006. Although manufacturing jobs were once accurately identified with unionized employment, manufacturing workers are now less likely to be in a union than is the average U.S. worker.
. . .
Although U.S. unions overall saw only a small increase in membership in 2007, this is the only year that unionization has risen in the past quarter of a century. Union membership has declined almost continuously, with occasional pauses, from 20.1 percent in 1983 to 12.1 percent this year. (For complete data from 1983 through 2006, see http://www.unionstats.com/.)
This long-term decline stands in remarkable contrast to worker desire for unionization. According to polls of non-managerial workers, about one-half want to be but are not union members.*
*See Richard B. Freeman, 2007, “Do Workers Still Want Unions? More Than Ever” (http://www.sharedprosperity.org/bp182/bp182.pdf), Economic Policy Institute.
Ben Zipperer is a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. John Schmitt is a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C.