For the second year in a row, the percentage of workers who belong to a union grew, according to the annual survey of union membership released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
In 2008, union membership grew by 428,000, increasing the percentage of union members in the workforce to 12.4 percent, up from 12.1 percent in 2007. Overall, 16.1 million workers carry union cards.
Union membership, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says, is especially valuable to working families as the nation’s economy is in the worst recession in decades.
Today’s numbers confirm what many working people already know: that if given the chance, American workers are choosing to join unions in larger numbers. Workers in unions are much more likely to have health care benefits and a pension than those without a union; in today’s economy, that’s the difference between sinking and swimming.
The BLS survey also reports on the union advantage workers receive on payday. In 2008, full-time union workers earned a median weekly salary of $886 while nonunion workers were paid 28 percent less per week, $691.
Some 60 million workers say they would join a union if they had the opportunity. But when workers try to form unions through the flawed National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) process, employers routinely respond with threats, intimidation, firings and harassment.
Of the 311,000 new workers who joined unions in 2007, the latest year for which such figures are available, only 70,000 workers were able to form a union through the NLRB process. Today, most workers who form new unions do so after their employer has agreed to recognize their union through a majority sign-up process—a major provision of the Employee Free Choice Act.
The Employee Free Choice Act would restore the freedom of workers to form unions and bargain for a better life. While some 78 percent of the public support the legislation, Big Business is waging a multimillion-dollar disinformation campaign against the bill.
On top of that, congressional Republicans are vowing to kill the workers’ rights legislation. They have even gone so far as to threaten to block President Barack Obama’s choice of Hilda Solis as secretary of labor. Says Sweeney:
In today’s economy, America’s working men and women need a fair shot at forming a union, now more than ever. The Employee Free Choice Act will give workers the freedom to bargain with their employers for better benefits, wages, and job security, and it will allow them—not their company—to decide how to form their union.
Union growth was broadly shared across demographic lines and occupations. Growth was strongest in the public sector, among Hispanics, and in Western states.
Click here for the full report, including a demographic breakdown of union membership by occupation, race, gender, state and more.