PI Original Adam Doster Tuesday March 17th, 2009, 2:00pm

Illinois Union Density Grows

In January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced
that union density nationally rose from 12.1 to 12.4 percent, the
largest annual jump on record since 1983. In Illinois, growth was even
stronger. WBEZ has the details:

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics ...

In January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that union density nationally rose from 12.1 to 12.4 percent, the largest annual jump on record since 1983. In Illinois, growth was even stronger. WBEZ has the details:

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that membership in Illinois unions totaled 939,000 last year. That’s 16.6 percent of the state’s workforce, up 2.1 percent from 2007.

This is great news, demonstrating both the determination of union organizers in the state and the sheer desire of workers to have their voices heard while on the job. But let’s be clear: a slight expansion in membership does not nullify the need for fundamental labor law reform. For one, Illinois’ union density still lags behind even recent figures. In 2002, for example, 19.6 percent of employed Illinoisans paid union dues. In 1993, the figure was 21 percent.

And as John Schmitt, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, told us back in January, workers freely organize when they’re not subjected to anti-union fearmongering from their employers. If so, it gets trickier:

“The large majority of growth,” writes CEPR Senior Economist John Schmitt over email, “appears to have taken place outside the current company-controlled election process—either in the public sector, where the NLRB [National Labor Relations Board] has no jurisdiction, or in areas within the private sector (health, hotels, etc.) where unions have, in recent years, increasingly spurned the NLRB process in favor of other organizing strategies.”

Americans understands the important role the labor movement plays in protecting employees on the job and securing economic rewards for the employees that make the economy function. And even though a disingenuous smear campaign and flimsy reporting have clouded the debate over the Employee Free Choice Act, a majority of Americans, still think easing the barriers to forming a union is good for the country. Hopefully, waffling legislators won’t stand in the way.

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