Union Membership Down, Government Concerned

union jobs Union membership dropped last year, and Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis is not happy about it.

The unionization rate of employed wage and salary workers was 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent in 2009. Among private sector employees, the rate dropped to 6.9 percent from 7.2 percent in 2009, according to the recently released Bureau of Labor Statistics' annual "Union Members – 2010" report.

In addition, the report also shows that the median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salaried union members totaled $917 per week, compared to $717 for workers not represented by unions. For Latinos, the wage disparity is even more dramatic, with union members earning an average of $771 compared to $512 for workers not represented by unions, a difference of 33.6 percent.

"When coupled with existing data showing that union members have access to better health care, retirement and leave benefits, today's numbers make it clear that union jobs are not only good jobs, they are central to restoring our middle class," Solis said. "As workers across the country continue to face lower wages and difficulty finding work due to the recent recession, these numbers demonstrate the pressing need to provide workers with a voice in the workplace and protect their right to organize and bargain collectively," she concluded.

In times of high unemployment, it's not uncommon for union membership to drop, as workers are more inclined to take any job they can find, regardless of union representation. With the lower wages that come with fierce competition for jobs, workers are also less able to pay union dues and membership fees. Experts foresee that union membership will start increasing again as the economy recovers.

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