Union membership up, even during recession

Even in a recession, union membership is increasing across the country, according to new figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It could be because workers think unions will help protect their jobs in this rough economy, or because unions are doing a better job of getting people to join, but whatever the reason, the numbers are up, if only slightly.

Union members accounted for 12.4% of employed wage and salary workers in 2008, up from 12.1% a year earlier. The number of union workers rose by 428,000 to 16.1 million. That's down a lot from the 20.1% union membership in 1983, when union data was first compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and when 17.7 million workers were unionized.

Government workers were nearly five times more likely to belong to a union than were private sector workers -- 36% for public sector vs. 7.6% for private. The highest unionization rate of 38.7% were at jobs in education, training and libraries.