Saturday, January 26, 2008

Union Membership Sees Biggest Rise Since ’83


The roll of American workers belonging to labor unions climbed last year by the largest number since 1983, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday.

Union membership rose by 311,000, to 15.7 million, the bureau said, despite a decline in such membership in manufacturing, long organized labor’s stronghold.

As a result, union membership as a share of the total work force rose last year for the first time in a quarter-century, inching up to 12.1 percent from 12 percent the year before. A total of 7.5 percent of private-sector workers were in unions, and 35.9 percent of public-sector workers.

Labor leaders hailed the increase, saying it was a harbinger that the union movement, which represented 20.1 percent of the work force in 1983, was bottoming out after decades of decline.

But some economists questioned whether the numbers in fact signaled a turnaround. In an analysis for the liberal Center for Economic and Policy Research, Ben Zipperer and John Schmitt wrote that “the increase is small and may well reflect statistical variation rather than an actual increase.”

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