The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of union members rose by 428,000 in 2008, which translates into a jump in union density from 12.1 to 12.4 percent of wage and salary workers. This is the second successive year of increase, perhaps marking a reversal of fortunes for the nation’s labor unions after decades of steady declines.
This is the most encouraging news for the American labor movement in many years.
It’s too early to tell how the current economic crisis will affect this emerging trend. During the past 30 years, the decline of America’s heavily unionized manufacturing sector has been a significant factor behind the lower union membership figures. The current downturn has been especially difficult on non-union professional and service sector labor markets, leading one to suspect that union density may not fall even as many jobs are shed. However, plenty of construction and manufacturing jobs have been lost as well, and declining tax revenues will force layoffs in the heavily-unionized public sector.
Here’s the BLS news release and summary: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm.
Here’s the BLS full report (pdf link): http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/union2.pdf.