The 49,000-worker increase in overall union membership in the U.S. in 2011 isn't much. It's not much in raw numbers, and despite it the union membership rate edged down from 11.9 percent in 2010 to 11.8 percent in 2011. But in a year that saw an all-out assault on unions, union members, and the right to organize and bargain collectively, we'll take it.
Despite the very public assaults on public workers in particular, the union membership rate among public-sector workers increased slightly from 36.2 percent to 37 percent, while private-sector union membership, which has been under a less publicized assault for years, remained at 6.9 percent. Full-time workers were just over twice as likely as part-time workers to be union members, another of the negative outcomes of the part-time economy.
Each end of the age spectrum saw increases in overall union membership: 15,000 more 16 to 24 year olds were union members in 2011 than in 2010, and ages 55 and over saw an increase as well. Black workers were most likely to be union members, followed by whites, Asians and Hispanic workers.
In the wage data we find some of the reasons corporations and Republican politicians are so hell-bent on destroying unions. In health care support occupations, union members have a median weekly income of $519, compared with $484 for non-members. In protective service occupations, union members have a median weekly income of $1,008, while non-members earn a median $627. In retail, it's $591 for union members to $577 for non-members. In food services, it's $585 to $424.
When the powerful are waging war on you with every tool at their disposal, a small gain is worth a celebration—and a redoubling of your efforts to gain yet more ground.