Union membership rose by more than 265,000 in 1999--the largest annual increase in 20 years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Jan. 19. The number of union members in the United States rose from 16.21 million to 16.48 million last year, the report said, and the percentage of U.S. workers who belong to unions remained steady at 13.9 percent.
That percentage had been going down in recent years. Because unions have committed greater energy and resources to helping workers gain a voice at work, much of the membership growth was due to an increase in the number of workers forming unions.
At least 600,000 workers organized into unions in 1999, according to internal AFL-CIO and affiliate union data--an increase of more than 25 percent over 1998. "We ve gotten this train rolling and picking up speed, but we re not at our destination yet," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told reporters at a news briefing.
Significantly, the percentage of private-sector workers in unions remained steady, ending a 20-year decline. Some unions had their best organizing year in recent history. For instance, nearly 50,000 workers each joined the UAW and the Electrical Workers, and more than 150,000 joined SEIU.
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