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Statement on Annual Bureau of Labor Statistics Union Membership Report

January 22, 2010

Liz Cattaneo
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WASHINGTON, DC—  Union membership levels remained largely the same in 2009, holding at 12.3% compared with 12.4% in 2008, according to figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released today. The slight decline corresponds with major job losses in the private sector. However, union membership increased in the public sector, showing that America’s workers do choose unions when strong labor laws protect their rights.

The United States saw staggering job losses between 2008 and 2009. The recession particularly battered two industries with higher union density—manufacturing and construction—leading to the decline in private sector union density from 7.6% to 7.2%.

Additionally, weak labor laws and a documented increase in anti-union retaliation by corporations against their employees contributed to the decline. By contrast, stronger labor laws in the public sector meant gains in union density, where union membership increased from 36.8% to 37.4%. With laws in 13 states protecting the rights of public employees to form unions through majority sign-up, many public sector workers have a path form a union without interference from their employer.

Following the release of the BLS report, American Rights at Work Executive Director Kimberly Freeman Brown issued this statement:

“It’s sadly unavoidable that during the nation’s most severe recession since the Great Depression, the sheer number of private sector job losses corresponds with losses in union membership.

These numbers show that while America’s workers are struggling, they do choose unions where laws are in place to level the playing field. Unfortunately, union membership still stagnates because too many workers are denied the choice to form a union, both by employers and weak labor laws that won’t hold unscrupulous corporations accountable.

In this tough economy, everyone is making do with less, but America cannot afford to put workers’ rights and opportunities on the back burner. Enacting legislation such as the Employee Free Choice Act to restore workers’ rights to form unions is a critical step. Congress must give workers a real chance to get a fair deal.”

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American Rights at Work – http://www.americanrightsatwork.org – is the nation's leading labor policy and advocacy organization dedicated to educating the American public about the barriers that workers face when they attempt to exercise their rights to freely and fairly form unions and engage in collective bargaining.