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Policy: Economy

In reversal, private-sector union membership now exceeds public sector

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Sean Higgins,Labor unions,Labor,Economy,Scott Walker,Richard Trumka,Public Employee Unions

Private-sector union membership surged last year to 7.3 million, and membership in public-sector organized labor slid to 7.2 million. This marks the first time in five years that the total private-sector membership actually exceeded that of its federal, state and local government counterpart.

According to Labor Department statistics released Friday, private-sector membership grew by nearly 300,000 last year, but public-sector numbers fell by about 100,000. Union membership remains much more common among government workers, though, with 35.3 percent of them organized. Just 6.7 percent of the private sector is organized.

The gains and losses largely balanced out. Overall, membership stands at 11.3 percent, or 14.5 million members, little changed from last year.

The switch suggests pushes to downsize government and reform public-sector unions are having an impact. Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ended automatic dues deduction for government employee unions in his state and required them to submit to annual recertifications. Membership has plunged as a consequence. Even Democrats like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are tangling with unions over reforms.

At the same time, unions are having more success at organizing, noted Economic Policy Institute President Lawrence Mishel: "Union coverage has increased in some states that may be unexpected. For instance, private sector union coverage increased in each of the last two years in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee."

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was, unsurprisingly, pleased that the private sector grew, but angered over the loss of public sector membership, which he slammed as "destructive [and] politically motivated."

"Wall Street’s Great Recession cost millions of America’s workers their jobs and pushed already-depressed wages down even further. But in 2013, America’s workers pushed back," he said.

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner