Union membership rises slightly in private sector

Union membership in the private sector ticked up in 2013, according to a new federal report.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday reported that 6.7 percent of wage and salary private workers were members of unions in 2013. That’s a slight rise from 6.6 percent of the private sector workforce that was unionized in 2012.

The overall union membership rate remained the same from 2012 to 2013, at 11.3 percent, according to the BLS. The AFL-CIO, the nation’s largest labor federation, said it saw hope in the improving figures for the private sector.

“Wall Street’s Great Recession cost millions of America’s workers their jobs and pushed already depressed wages down even further. But in 2013, America’s workers pushed back,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “At the same time, these numbers show that as unorganized workers have taken up the fight for their right to a voice on the job, union employers are hiring — creating good jobs our economy desperately needs.”

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Also, private sector union members make up of the majority of labor’s ranks, a change from 2012.

In 2013, there were 7.3 million private sector union members, compared to 7.2 million members in the public sector. There were more public union members in 2012, with 7.3 million, greater than the 7.0 million private union members that same year.

The AFL-CIO attributed the drop in public sector union members to federal, state and local governments laying off workers. Public sector unions have come under attack in several states, including in Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker (R) has worked to limit collective bargaining for public employees.  

A group that campaigns against unions dismissed the rise in private sector union membership but said companies need to keep a close eye on labor organizing among their employees.

“An animal is most dangerous when cornered and wounded, and that’s exactly where the labor movement currently finds itself,” said J. Justin Wilson, managing director of the Center for Union Facts, in a statement. “While this uptick is by no means a tectonic shift in the long-term trend of waning union membership, it certainly is something employers should pay attention to going forward.”