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Union Membership Steady in 2001 at 13.5% of Nation's Work Force

Labor: Rise in rolls is offset by layoffs, keeping movement from significantly boosting numbers.

January 18, 2002|NANCY CLEELAND | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Union membership increased slightly last year, allowing organized labor to maintain a 13.5% share of the U.S. work force despite a wave of layoffs but underscoring the movement's failure to substantially add to its numbers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' annual count of union members, released Thursday, showed that 16.28 million wage and salary workers were members of unions in 2001, a barely perceptible increase from the 16.26 million in 2000.

Government employees were far more likely to belong to a union than workers in the private sector, where only about 10% of employees were unionized. Police officers, firefighters and other protective-service workers had the highest unionization rate, about 38%.

John J. Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, which represents 13million union members, said federation records show that 400,000 workers joined unions last year but that growth was offset by layoffs in union jobs. Sweeney has said unions need to organize 500,000 to 1 million workers to regain strength.

The union membership rate has fallen from a high of 20.1% in 1983, the first year for which comparable data are available, the bureau said. Among demographic groups, it said, blacks were more likely to be union members, at 17%, than whites (13.1%) or Hispanics (11.3%).

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