Labor Unions Are Back, BLS Confirms

The number of U.S. workers who belong to a union rose by 311,000 to 15.7 million last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. BLS said union members accounted for 12.1 percent of employed wage and salary workers, "essentially unchanged from 12.0 percent in 2006." The growing Service Employees International Union, however, trumpeted the news, saying this is the first time in 25 years that union members' share has increased.

In 1983, which BLS said was the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent.

The union membership rate for public sector workers was 35.9 percent in 2007, about five times higher than for private industry workers (7.5 percent). The category of public sector workers with the highest rate, local government workers, includes teachers, police officers, and firefighters. Private sector industries with high unionization rates include transportation and utilities (22.1 percent), telecommunications (19.7 percent), and construction (13.9 percent), the bureau reported. The union membership rate was higher for men (13.0 percent) than for women (11.1 percent) in 2007 and higher for black workers (14.3 percent) than whites (11.8 percent), Asians (10.9 percent), or Hispanics (9.8 percent).

SEIU said 114,158 new members joined its ranks in 2007 -- a 20 percent increase from the numbers of previous years, and enough to raise this union's ranks to nearly 2 million members. It is successfully organizing janitors and security officers.

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