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Economic Downturn Reverberates in Union Membership, Membership Decline in 2002 Despite Half a Million Workers Newly Organized

Washington—The economic recession that has swept the nation and left millions jobless was reflected in union membership in 2002.  Union membership was 16.1 million in 2002, compared to 16.4 million in 2001 and 16.3 in 2000, according to figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics today. While there have been slight ups and downs, union membership has hovered around 16 million for the last decade.

Although more than half a million workers formed new unions last year, this gain did not offset post-September 11 losses in traditionally unionized sectors, like airlines, hotels, construction and manufacturing.  The United States has lost 1.85 million manufacturing jobs alone since January, 2001.  The number of union members in manufacturing fell from over four million in 1991 to under 2.5 million in 2002.

Shifts in union membership by gender, race and sector indicate that union membership is moving along with the economy.  Forty-two percent of union members are now women, more than 1.6 million Hispanic workers are members of unions and the number of professional workers with a union is steadily rising.


Union workers make 26 percent more money than workers without a union, according to numbers released today by the BLS.  In 2002, union workers made on average $740 a week compared to $587 for non-union workers.


To help workers form unions in the next few years, unions are planning major campaigns including those among industrial laundry workers, janitors, California farmworkers, graduate employees, community college teachers, wireless communications workers and more.   


New research by Peter D. Hart Research Associates indicates that America’s workers need and want unions - - half of U.S. workers say they would form a union tomorrow if given the chance.  That translates into 30 to 40 million workers who would join a union if given a free choice - - but too few ever get that chance.  Employers routinely violate workers’ freedom to improve their lives through unions.  Ninety-five percent of private-sector employers fight their workers’ efforts to form unions, including a third who illegally fire union supporters, according to Cornell researcher Kate Bronfenbrenner.


At the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in South Florida this week, unions are launching a comprehensive, union movement wide campaign to expose the immoral and illegal tactics employers use to thwart workers’ efforts to form unions.  Independent research shows that the American public does not know what workers must endure just to exercise their right to a union.  Because the freedom to improve one’s life with a union is a basic civil and human right, the labor movement will involve community and elected leaders in demanding a free choice for workers.

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