January 24, 2008
Steve Smith
(202) 637-5018

Union Membership Increased in 2007, According to Government Stats

(Washington, January 25) – Union membership in the United States increased by 311,000 to 15.7 million in 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the largest single-year increase in union membership since 1979. Overall union density increased slightly from 12.0 percent to 12.1 percent last year, reversing a trend of decline in recent years.

“Today's numbers show working people are pushing to form and join unions in order to improve their lives, despite record levels of resistance from employers,” AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said. “They know that a union card is the single best ticket into the middle class, especially in today’s economy.”

Private sector union membership grew by 133,000 and density grew to 7.5 percent in 2007, the first time private sector density grew since 1979. In construction alone, more than 96,000 members were added last year, bumping union density in that industry to 13.9 percent from 13.0 percent in 2006.

The largest increase in union membership was in health services, where unions added 142,000 members, a 0.9 percent increase in density from 2006 to 7.9 percent.

Union membership among women grew again in 2007, continuing a trend in recent years. More than 201,000 women joined unions in 2007, nearly twice the number of men. Women now account for 44 percent of all union members, a new high.

The advantages of having a union on the job were clear in 2007. Last year, median weekly pay for union members was $863 while those who were not represented by unions had median weekly earnings of $663.

Much of the growth in 2007 was due to the increase in the number of workers joining or forming unions, reflecting an increased commitment by unions to help workers organize, especially in growing industries.

"Our unions have been working hard over the last 10 years to build their strategic capacity to help workers join unions, even in this hostile legal environment where workers' right to organize has been all but eliminated,” Sweeney said. “The fact that our unions have been able to grow despite a slowing economy and a decline in the public sector is a good sign. As we've built political support and held elected officials who oppose workers' rights accountable, more working people have been able to exercise their choice to join unions.”

There have been a number of important victories for workers who wanted a union on the job. Those victories include 40,000 childcare workers in Michigan joining the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) and the United Auto Workers (UAW). More than 40,000 communications workers joined the Communications Workers of America in the last two years, including more than 20,000 at Cingular (now AT&T Wireless). Last year 50,000 childcare workers in New York joined AFSCME and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). In addition, 6,000 casino dealers in New Jersey and Connecticut joined the UAW and 3,000 administrative staff from Rutgers University joined the AFT and Communications Workers of America.

The manufacturing sector continues to be hard hit due to an overall decline caused in part by trade deals like NAFTA that have shipped millions of American jobs overseas. Manufacturing employment dropped by 287,000 and union membership dropped by 93,000. Union density in manufacturing declined from 11.7 percent to 11.3 percent.

The growth in union membership comes at a time when workers say they want and need unions more than ever. More than half of all workers – 60 million – say they would join a union tomorrow if given the chance, according to independent research by Peter Hart Research Associates.

“It’s no accident that the vast majority of workers who formed unions last year did so outside the broken National Labor Relations Board process,” Sweeney said. “All workers deserve a free and fair chance to form a union. It’s time for Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act to reform our nation’s broken labor laws and help rebuild our ailing middle class.”

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