New Union Membership Data: Nothing for the AFL-CIO to Cheer

By January 23, 2006Labor Unions

Late last week, the non-partisan Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual report of union membership in the US. The AP ran a story entitled, “Long Declining Union Membership Levels Off”, hardly a battle cry. They’re reaching the irreducible sum, beyond which they cannot shrink. However, a look at the numbers and the demographics shows an aging union workforce, particularly in the private sector. Retirements will hit them especially hard in the next few years.

In the AP story, Teamsters President Jim Hoffa is (rightly) quoted as saying, “The good news is that the annual hemorrhaging of union membership slowed last year,” adding, “And that’s not really good news.” Increasingly-irrelevant AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said, “In a political climate that’s hostile to worker’s rights, these numbers illustrate the extraordinary will of workers to gain a voice on the job despite enormous obstacles.”

Funny how facts never get in the way of a good story for Brother Sweeney. These numbers declined steadily for the 8 years of the Clinton Administration, years he presumably would have found less hostile to workers’ rights. The decline leveled off this year, for the firs time in a long time. Hmmmm…. maybe the current climate isn’t so hostile after all. The numbers would seem to bear that out. Sweeney might have been working off an old press release.

It may be that the Change to Win Coalition can begin to reverse some of labor’s downward trends. It is a measure of Sweeney’s leadership that a year without further hemorrhaging is something to cheer.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Even the good news isn’t good news. The AP was wrong. The long-declining union membership rates didn’t, in fact, level off. If you carry the BLS figures one more decimal place, you find the membership rate fell from 12.52% to 12.46%. Not the full-tenth of a point that is apparently necessary to trigger a different headline from AP, but still a significant drop in an economy of our size.