For the First Time Ever Most Union Members Now Work for the US Government
Change! For the first time ever most union workers now work in government not in the private sector.
President Barack Obama poses with SEIU leader Andy Stern. (LUR.com)
For the first time in American history, a majority of union members are government workers rather than private-sector employees, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced on Friday.
In its annual report on union membership, the bureau undercut the longstanding notion that union members are overwhelmingly blue-collar factory workers. It found that membership fell so fast in the private sector in 2009 that the 7.9 million unionized public-sector workers easily outnumbered those in the private sector, where labor’s ranks shrank to 7.4 million, from 8.2 million in 2008.
“There has been steady growth among union members in the public sector, but I’m a little bit shocked to see that the lines have actually crossed,” said Randel K. Johnson, senior vice president for labor at the United States Chamber of Commerce.
According to the labor bureau, 7.2 percent of private-sector workers were union members last year, down from 7.6 percent the previous year. That, labor historians said, was the lowest percentage of private-sector workers in unions since 1900.
Among government workers, union membership grew to 37.4 percent last year, from 36.8 percent in 2008.
Gerald W. McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, voiced dismay that government employees now represented a majority of union members.
“It’s a very bad sign,” he said. “We’ve been banged around some, but when you see what’s been happening to the industrial base of this country, to the steelworkers, to the autoworkers, they’re been hammered much more.”
After rising the two previous years, overall union membership fell by 771,000 in 2009, to 15.3 million, largely because employment declined over all. But the rate of private-sector unionization fell because two sectors where unions are especially strong — manufacturing and construction — suffered especially large job losses. Construction lost more than 900,000 jobs last year, falling to 5.9 million, while 1.3 million factory jobs were lost, declining to 11.6 million.
Notwithstanding the recession, government employment grew last year, inching up 16,000, to 22,516,000, according to the bureau…
…Noting that union members generally have higher earnings, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in a statement: “As workers across the country have seen their real and nominal wages decline as a result of the recession, these numbers show a need for Congress to pass legislation to level the playing field to enable more American workers to access the benefits of union membership. This report makes clear why the administration supports the Employee Free Choice Act,” a bill that would make it easier to unionize.”