This isn’t how conservatives wanted things to play out. They wanted to use the post-Tea Party period as a time to crush union membership. They sought out a coordinated strategy, in places like Wisconsin and Ohio and Indiana and Tennessee and Oklahoma and Idaho, to roll back and bust up unions. And despite all that, despite the millions in expense that the labor movement doled out to defend themselves, unionization actually went up slightly in 2011.
Overall union membership increased by 49,000 from 2010 to 2011, including 15,000 new 16- to 24-year-old members, according to new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data out this morning. An increase of 110,000 in the private sector was partially offset by a decline of 61,000 in the public sector, making the rate of union membership essentially unchanged at 11.8 percent, with some 14.8 million U.S. workers union members.
Public-sector density increased from 36.2 percent to 37 percent though November 2011. Private-sector union membership remains at 6.9 percent. The largest increases in union membership were in construction, health care services, retail trade, primary metals and fabricated metal products, hospitals, transportation and warehousing.
The Center on Economic and Policy Research has more details. I would assume that the drop-off in the public sector comes mainly because of the shrinking public sector generally; indeed the share of unionization in the public sector increased, which is pretty incredible considering the union-busting efforts throughout the country.
We’re not seeing in the numbers a return to the union valhalla of the 1950s and 1960s. But if unions could increase their membership despite a series of assaults, imagine what could happen with friends of labor in policymaking positions and with new rules designed to help collective bargaining rather than harm it.
I’ll give AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka the last word:
The ability to come together for a voice on the job gives working people the power to solve workplace problems, to innovate on the job, and to improve their working conditions. Collective bargaining brings democracy inside the workplace door and fosters a fair, strong middle class economy. That’s why the labor movement is working with the next generation of workers, as well as emerging industries, to ensure that each person has a voice in the workplace and an economy that restores balance.