Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its annual report on union membership rates in the United States. In stark contrast to the decline in union membership we’ve seen in recent years, union membership levels held relatively steady at 11.8 percent in 2011.
Though cash-strapped state and local governments cut jobs, the percentage of public sector workers in unions increased from 36.2 percent to 37.0 percent. Job loss in the public sector was offset by gains in the private sector, where union membership stayed at 6.9 percent with an increase of 110,000 union members. The construction industry, which experienced one of the greatest drops in unionization in 2010, saw 73,000 union members added in 2011—the largest net gain for any industry.
Our Executive Director Kimberly Freeman Brown sees those numbers as an encouraging sign for working families:
Despite the egregious attacks on public sector workers, the continuous assault on collective bargaining from politicians at every level of government, and the obstacles workers still face when they try to join together in a union, Americans are holding their ground.
Jobs are finally coming back, and with them, an increased number of workers with access to fair pay, decent benefits, and a voice on the job. Many of these new union jobs are a direct result of unions working together with their employers to weather the economic storm. For instance, as the auto industry rebounded, GM and the UAW collaborated to restore production and good, American jobs.
That’s not to say we don’t have more work to do. Millions of Americans are still out of work, even more are struggling to make ends meet, and workers are still under attack in statehouses nationwide. At the same time, unscrupulous companies continue to squeeze their employees and lower job standards, furthering the erosion of the middle class.
But if we’ve learned anything this year, it’s that voters support workers’ right to a voice on the job through their union—as a path to economic security for their families, a boon to their communities, and a much-needed counterbalance to the unbridled influence of the 1 percent. And when legislators attempt to strip away that right, they pay the price at the ballot box.
Let’s hope 2012 brings even more gains for the millions of workers still searching for good, family-supporting jobs.