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California's union jobs take hit from recession

The state, which still has the nation's highest number of union jobs, is losing them at a faster clip than any other state, a UCLA study finds.

September 06, 2010|By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times

The recession is taking a toll on union jobs, which are disappearing in California at a faster rate than anywhere else in the country, according to a UCLA study published Monday.

In the 12 months ending in June, the union membership rate dropped from 18.3% to 17.6% in California and from 12.4% to 12.1% nationwide, the study found. The drop was most acute in the counties of Los Angeles, Riverside, Orange, Ventura and San Bernardino, where unionization rates fell from 17.5% to 16.5%.

The loss of union jobs has wiped out two years of gains, putting membership rates in the U.S. and California back to around 2007-08 levels, said Lauren Appelbaum, director of the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment and the report's lead author.

"Earlier in the recession, jobs were disappearing, but these were not necessarily union jobs, so the percentage of workers who were union members continued to increase," she said.

The losses have been particularly acute in private sector industries such as residential construction and manufacturing. For the first time, the number of union members nationwide is greater in the public sector than in the private sector: 7.76 million compared with 7.19 million, the study found.

The California manufacturing industry alone has shed 28,000 jobs since 2009. The only significant increase was in the state's wholesale and retail industry, which added nearly 25,000 jobs.

The findings in the report, The State of the Unions in 2010: A Profile of Union Membership in Los Angeles, California and the Nation, were based on labor figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the U.S Census Bureau.

Despite the losses, California still accounts for about 16% of the nation's nearly 15 million union members, more than any other state.

The report came as no surprise to members of the Service Employees International Union, who gathered Monday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels to celebrate a Labor Day Mass.

Marta Escobar, a single mother of four, was one of 16 janitors who lost their jobs last month cleaning two office towers owned by JPMorgan Chase in Century City. She said she spent years cleaning homes and is particularly concerned about losing the benefits that come with a union job, including healthcare for her younger children.

"The job is really important for me because it means I can offer my kids a future," Escobar said. "Nothing extravagant, but a future."

JPMorgan Chase says the dispute is between a vendor it contracts with to clean the towers and the vendor's employees.

SEIU officials say the loss of union jobs will be felt throughout the community.

"I think union jobs are a way to restore the common good in our community," said SEIU President Mary Kay Henry. "Because workers have a way to raise their wages, that allows for more tax revenue to be invested in our communities, and hopefully union workers can join hands with their employers to make sure that the enterprise profits … and employs more people."

alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

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