The Guardian February 24, 1999


USA: Union membership on the rise

The number of union members rose in more than half the states in the USA 
in 1998, according to data from the Bureau of Labour Statistics. Union 
membership grew by more than 100,000 nationwide, from 16.1 to 16.2 million. 
California led the nation with a net increase of 87,000 union members in 
1998.

Although unions in the service, communications and utilities, and 
government sectors brought in at least 373,000 new members, this gain was 
offset by union job losses in other sectors, particularly manufacturing.

Nationally, although the number of union members climbed, the share of the 
workforce belonging to unions declined from 14.1 percent to 13.9 percent.

However, this was a smaller decline than in the previous year and in more 
than half the states there was an increase in the percentage of the 
workforce which is unionised.

The overall rise in union membership is due in large part to aggressive 
organising efforts of unions. Unions organised more and won more in the 
first half of 1998 compared to the first half of 1997, according to a study 
by the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA).

"Clearly, the lesson here is that we're not only trying more, we're winning 
more", said Kirk Adams, AFL-CIO Organising Director.

Some of the highlights of organising in 1998 included the 19,000 United 
Airlines passenger service workers who unionised with the International 
Association of Machinists (IAM) in July, the largest single organising win 
in more than 20 years; the 4,500 workers at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas 
who organised in October after their employer agreed to recognise their 
choice for a union; and the 2,500 workers at the Sunrise Hospital 
(Columbia) who organised with the Service Employees' International Union 
(SEIU) in a campaign that was a model of unions' new outreach to involve 
entire communities in defending workers' right to organise.

"This new data confirms that today's unions are on the right track", said 
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

"Our commitment and dedication to organising, at all levels of the labour 
movement, is beginning to bear fruit  but we still have a long way to go. 
We need to stay focused and redouble our efforts."

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