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Richard Trumka on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Annual Union Membership Report

Today’s release of the annual union membership numbers by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in this economic recovery, people are either seeking out good union jobs or taking matters into their own hands by forming unions to raise wages and ensure that new jobs are good jobs.

In 2014, workers made great strides and confronted great challenges, including major organizing wins at American Airlines, multiple state legislative victories on the minimum wage and innovative campaigns conducted by carwash workers, among others. We recognize, however, that right-wing billionaires’ extremist politics, a rapacious Wall Street and insufficient advocacy from political leaders thwarted further progress.

In the State of the Union this week, President Obama celebrated the fact that our economy has benefitted from 58 consecutive months of job growth and reiterated the need for laws that strengthen unions and give workers a voice. But the most important question is not simply how many jobs we’re creating, but are we creating jobs that raise wages for all? A strong recovery must be built on family-sustaining, not poverty-level jobs. Today’s news confirms what most of us already knew: workers are finding good union jobs despite political ideologues — and jobs are coming back as the economy slowly rebounds, but neither are nearly enough.

Key trends include:

  • Union density edged up for workers 16 to 24 from 4.2 to 4.5%
  • Public sector union density growth largely due to women
  • Union density growth in Leisure and Hospitality
  • Union membership increased among Latino men
  • Largest growth, 1.8% among Asian American women
  • Union membership increased for Black women and men
  • Black men and women remain the groups with the highest union density

Noteworthy 2014 Worker Wins

  • More than 92,000 workers chose to join AFSCME, including 20,000 home health care workers who were recently the target of Harris v Quinn. This was double AFSCME’s organizing goal for the year.
  • 14,500 customer service agents who work for American Airlines voted for union representation with CWA after the merger with US Airways. This victory was especially significant for 9,000 former American Airlines agents who have been part of a 19-year long organizing effort.
  • Workers at an Alabama Copper parts plant voted to organize as members of the United Steelworkers despite extensive political intimidation and efforts by Governor Robert Bentley to dissuade workers from unionizing.
  • Mechanics, technicians, and maintenance personnel at the Red River Army Depot near Texarkana, TX successfully organized into the IAM.  This victory follows successful campaigns by workers earlier in the year where 925 employees joined the union at the Corpus Christi Army Depot in Corpus Christi, Texas.
  • Nurses and hospital workers voted to form unions at two hospitals in Connecticut. The workers, who will be represented by AFT Connecticut, had to overcome attempts by hospital administrators to intimidate the workers.

Union Membership In Decline Due To Austerity Cuts, Not Members Leaving

Yesterday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released a new report that shows that union membership slipped slightly over the last year.  The report show that overall union membership went from 11.8% of the workforce to 11.3%.

I am sure that right-wing pundits are going to continue to say that this decline shows that people do not want union representation anymore.  I would beg to differ. The fact of the matter is America is adding jobs and growing our economy. The problem is that many of these jobs are not eligible for union representation, or are struggling to gain representation.

“Throughout most of the recession union membership in Oregon grew as more workers realized the importance of having a voice at work. But we knew that eventually the job losses would translate to lower membership numbers, and that appears to have caught up with us this year,” said
Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain.

Workers like those at Wal-Mart and American Airlines have been fighting for years to gain representation rights.  Think of what these numbers would be if we added the two million Wal-Mart employees to the list of union-represented workers.  OUR Walmart, which organized the national ‘Black Friday’ boycott/picket of Walmart is working to organize those workers and give them a voice on the job.

The problem with organizing is that even when workers overwhelmingly want and need union representation, the process makes it very difficult to get that representation.  This is the exact case with CWA and American Airlines service agents.  They have been working to hold a representation election for over a year.  During this wait, American Airlines has laid off hundreds of employees and replaced them with temporary (ineligible for representation) workers.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka stated:

“Working women and men urgently need a voice on the job today, but the sad truth is that it has become more difficult for them to have one, as today’s figures on union membership demonstrate. “

The second reason for this decline is the massive cuts in the public sector throughout the US.  Public employee unions represent more of their workforce than any other occupation.  Jobs cutsWhen the government sheds jobs, that results in a loss of union membership. The biggest hit, percentage wise, was at the local level.  This is teachers, firefighters, police officers, and municipal workers.  Last year alone, local governments cut nearly 100,000 jobs.

The Federal sector has also taken a beating.  As you can see from this chart, since 2010 alone the Federal Sector has dropped over 2% of its workforce.  Since 30% of the Federal workforce are members of a union, this means 1 in 3 federal job cuts is a union member no longer on the payroll.

One other area that has seen a significant drop in union membership is directly affected by the Government: the building trades.

Many states have greatly slowed their infrastructure investments over the last four to five years. These cuts have made it even harder on the already struggling building trades. Even with the Federal mandate to use project labor agreements (PLAs), if the states are not spending money, there are fewer union jobs.

It begs the question: how would union membership have been affected if Congress had acted on the American Jobs Act, instead of insisting on austerity cuts?

Many of the private-sector occupations have actually seen growth in union membership.  Combine that with the potential of over one million new jobs to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, and I firmly believe that the number of union members would actually be on the rise for the first time in many years.

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