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Spring 2009
Updated On: Aug 21, 2015


Union Membership
On the Rise Once Again

    In spite of the economic downturn — or perhaps because of it — American workers are rediscovering Labor Unions.
    Last year, the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that Unions added about 311,000 members in 2007. Writing in Voice of Action a year ago, President Jacques Loveall noted, “After more than 25 straight years of decline, Union membership is gaining in the United States.”

Quote "The significance of these numbers is unavoidable."

    The bureau’s newest survey, published in January 2009, proves that the previous report wasn’t a statistical fluke but the start of a trend.
    According to the bureau, the percentage of workers who belong to Unions rose last year from 12.1 percent to 12.4 percent, representing an additional gain of 428,000 workers. That means 16.1 million Americans are now Union members.
    The significance of these numbers is unavoidable. In a period when the economy lost hundreds of thousand of jobs overall, more than three quarters of a million Americans chose Unions to represent their interests at work.
    The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reported that the “Union difference” — the advantage that a typical Union member has in wages over his or her non-Union equivalent — held steady at around $200 a week in 2008. But many of the new Union members were still  negotiating contracts that should widen the gap further in next year’s survey.
    Once again leading the way were government workers. Union membership in the public sector increased from 35.9 percent in 2007 to 36.8 percent in 2008.
 Gains in private sector

    In the private sector, 7.6 percent of workers were union members in 2008, compared to 7.5 percent in 2007.
    What is the reason for this reversal of what had been a long and steady decline in Union membership?
    For one thing, American workers recognized that the government was unwilling or unable to protect them from abusive and discriminatory practices by management, including rampant outsourcing, inconsistent workplace rules and hazardous conditions.
    Moreover, after years of being promised the benefits of “trickledown” economics, they saw their own wages stagnate while pay for executives swelled to obscene proportions.
    I believe the most significant factor is a new emphasis on organizing by
Michael Tursky, Secretary-Treasurer UFCW 8 - Golden State 
the Labor Movement. It’s no coincidence that the increases in Union membership followed the  breakaway of several large Unions — including the UFCW, the Teamsters and the SEIU, among others — from the AFL-CIO to form the Change to Win coalition. Change to Win was founded on the principle that more resources need to be invested in organizing workers.
    UFCW 8 has performed an important role by bringing thousands of new workers into the Union family. The recent enrollment of more than 200 Drug Clerks at 41 Raley’s stores is just the latest example of leadership that has earned honors for our Union from the UFCW International Union.
    Now that the balance of power in Washington has shifted in our favor, Labor Unions are pushing hard to get Congress to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.
    This legislation would remove obstacles that make it extremely difficult for employees in many industries to join Unions and negotiate contracts. Many workers are being harassed, threatened and even fired for wanting to join a Union.
    Passing the EFCA will be a battle. Powerful interests want to stop the growth of Unions. But this is a battle we must win so we can build upon the successes of the past two years.

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