Getting Workers Back on Union Rolls

New data shows unionization rates remained virtually unchanged in 2009 despite Americans’ desire to join, write David Madland and Karla Walter at CAP Action.

Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers released today showed that unionization rates remained virtually unchanged between 2008 and 2009—falling a tenth of a percentage point from 12.4 in 2008 to 12.3 in 2009—and for the first time unionized public sector employees outnumber private sector union members. For the last six years union membership rates have hovered between 12 and 12.5 percent, but they have dropped considerably over the last 25 years. Significant legislative changes must occur in order for a substantial portion of the American workforce to get back onto union rolls as polls indicate they would like to do.

Unionization rates increased slightly in 2007 and 2008—growing from 12 percent to 12.1 percent in 2007 and from 12.1 percent to 12.4 percent in 2008. But over the last quarter century union membership rates have fallen significantly and the current union membership rates are a fraction of what they were in the early 1980s. Rates have fallen by almost 8 percentage points since 1983, the first year comparable union data are available, when union membership rates were 20.1 percent.

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David Madland

Senior Fellow; Senior Adviser, American Worker Project

Karla Walter

Senior Director, Employment Policy