US union membership falls – but union members still better paid

A recent report says that union membership in the USA has fallen to a 70 year low. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that US union membership stands at 11.9% the lowest figure in more than 70 years. But that union members where better paid.

The report found that the number of workers in unions fell by 612,000 last year to 14.7 million.

The number of private sector workers in unions fell by 339,000, to 7.1 million, while the number of public sector union members fell by 273,000, to 7.6 million.

The percentage of private sector workers in unions fell to 6.9%, down from 7.2 %.

In 2009, for the first time in US history, government employees accounted for more than half the nation’s union membership, but the percentage of government workers in unions fell to 36.2 % last year, down from 37.4% in 2008.

The peak level of union membership was 35% during the mid-1950s, after a surge in unionisation and organising after World War II.

Whilst the latest figures can make for depressing reading, they must be set against the US economic situation, the anti-union stance of employers, wide spread union busting and the weakness of US labour laws.

There has been a growth in companies who are ideologically opposed to unions and aggressive in resisting organising campaigns.

In 2009, union membership fell by 771,000 largely because employment declined over all, but that decline followed a growth in union membership the previous two years of 739,000 because of increased employment and some large and successful union organising campaigns.

The US economy has seen large-scale layoffs in several sectors including in traditionally unionised areas – construction, manufacturing, teaching and local government.

But there is some good news to counter balance the bad. The bureau said that median weekly earnings for unionise workers — $917 — remained higher than the $717 in earnings for workers not in unions.

According to the bureau, New York had the highest unionisation rate of any state, at 24.2%, followed by Alaska, at 22.9%, and Hawaii, at 21.8%. But in so-called right to work states including North Carolina, Arkansas and Georgia union membership sits at 4% or below.

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