January 20, 2006

Unions kept pace with growing US workforce in 2005

By Peter Szekely

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The number of workers belonging to
labor unions rose last year for the first time in six years, as
union membership kept pace with a growing American workforce,
the U.S. Labor Department said on Friday.

The number of union members rose by 213,000 to 15.7 million
in 2005, the first increase since 1999, the department's Bureau
of Labor Statistics said in an annual report.

Unions' share of the workforce was unchanged at 12.5
percent in 2005, as the number of union members grew at the
same rate as the number of all wage and salary workers, which
includes managers and executives who are ineligible for union
membership under federal labor law.

The news was welcomed by the AFL-CIO, the country's largest
labor federation, which has long complained that hard-core
tactics by many nonunion employers, including illegal measures
like firing union activists, has intimidated many workers who
would like to have a union.

"In a political climate that's hostile to workers' rights,
these numbers illustrate the extraordinary will of workers to
gain a voice on the job despite enormous obstacles," AFL-CIO
President John Sweeney said in a statement.

The 52-union federation, whose survey has shown that 57
percent of workers would like to join a union, has been urging
Congress to pass a bill to make it easier for workers to form

Union membership has been in a declining trend since the
1950s, when about one-third of all U.S. workers carried a union
card, in part because once heavily unionized industries like
manufacturing shrank and moved offshore.

Most of last year's increase was among government workers,
especially at the state and local level, where union membership
rolls grew by 163,000 to 7.4 million workers and the union
share of public sector workers edged up to 36.5 percent from
36.4 percent, the bureau said.

In the private sector, the percentage of union members
slipped to 7.8 percent in 2005 from 7.9 percent, even though
the number of union members grew by 50,000 to 8.3 million.


The most union-dense states were New York (26.1 percent),
Hawaii (25.8 percent), Alaska (22.8 percent), Michigan and New
Jersey (20.5 percent each). States with the thinnest union
presence in their workforces were South Carolina (2.3 percent),
North Carolina (2.9 percent), Arkansas and Virginia (3.3
percent each) and Utah (3.9 percent).

The report also reflected the changing face of the American
labor movement, which has become more female and minority and
less male and white in the last 20 years.

Last year's growth was entirely among women union members,
whose numbers grew by 222,000. The percentage of female union
members rose to 11.3 percent in 2005 from 11.1 percent, while
male union membership shrank to 13.5 percent of workers from
13.8 percent. In 1983, the bureau said the percentage of male
union members was 10 percentage points higher than female union

Although white workers made the bulk of union members with
12.5 million, the union membership rate among black workers was
highest at 15.1 percent, compared with 12.2 percent for white
workers and 10.4 percent for Hispanic workers.

The bureau said the median weekly earnings of full-time
union members was about 29 percent more than nonunion workers'
pay and that union members' pay rose by 2.6 percent last year,
compared with only 1.6 percent for nonunion workers. But it
said the value of union contracts was not the only factor
contributing to the disparity.