Since 2008, union membership numbers have been the decline. Now, membership rates have begun to level, indicating they either cannot go any lower or the labor market is at the verge of turning around for union members. The Center for Economic Policy Research, a think tank of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, claims the membership numbers leveled off in 2011, after losing 1.4 million memberships between 2008 and 2010.

The public sector led the way in the decline of membership by losing 61,000 union jobs. The private sector, on the other hand, added 110,000 union employees.

While the current union membership plateau may be a positive sign for unions in the country, it may be indicative of a coming surge in union membership.

John Budd, a professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota believes the stabilization is because unions have lost as many jobs as they can lose. Unions have a group of core industries that rely on union organization, such as airlines, auto and health care workers. Union membership within these industries are currently as low as they can go.

The belief in economic equality and fairness that unions champion may be attracting new members during these uncertain economic times. As workers continue to have stagnant wages, they may be turning to unions to help get better pay and working conditions. It’s also a good sign for unions that memberships in states with the most hostile political environments to unions are beginning to stabilize.

Clark University Graduate School of Management’s professor Gary Chaison takes a bleaker view of the future of unions. He believes that shrinking state and local budgets will continue to fuel layoffs and fewer industrial jobs will come available. Some of these budgetary concerns, he believes, are caused by hefty pension obligations.

The biggest leaders of union growth in 2011 came from the state of Florida and the health care industries. Some of the steepest declines in union membership rates can from the state of New York. As the most heavily unionized state, this is not a total surprise.

While women have accounted for 75 percent of the recent union membership increase, there’s no evidence to support that either gender is more likely to join a union. This disparity in membership increases between the sexes most likely has more to do with the industries being hardest hit by the economic downturn. Since many of the industries dominated by women have been hit less by downsizing in recent years, it makes sense for more women to be joining local unions for their industry.


Eve Tahmincioglu, January 30, 2012.

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