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N.Y. Union Membership on the Rise

A Labor Department official says the jump resulted in part from an executive order signed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer that paved the way for unions to organize 60,000 child care workers across the state.

March 13, 2008
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Labor union membership in New York state rose last year as union leaders stepped up organizing efforts.

The U.S. Labor Department reported that the percentage of unionized workers jumped 3 points to 25.2 percent in New York—the highest in the nation.

In 2007, 2.1 million workers in the state belonged to unions, up from 2 million the year before. An additional 91,000 workers were covered by collective bargaining agreements, but were not union members themselves. The rise follows a period between 2005 and 2006 where membership in the state fell 5 percent.

“Our unions are organizing on a scale they never have before,” says Greg Tarpinian, executive director of Change to Win, a federation of seven unions representing 6 million workers. “There’s a lot of organizing going on in health care, in building services, in food service.”

Department of Labor regional commissioner Michael Dolfman says the jump resulted in part from an executive order signed by Gov. Eliot Spitzer that paved the way for unions to organize 60,000 child care workers across the state. Among them were 28,000 home-based child care providers in New York City who joined the United Federation of Teachers in December.

“Even with the fact that it’s very difficult to organize, there still is an increase,” says New York State AFL-CIO president Denis Hughes. “It shows that there’s a pent-up will for people to be represented in the workplace, to have a democratic voice in the workplace.”

Union leaders say the National Labor Relations Board’s election process is stacked against workers, sparking a need to organize creatively through legislative and other means, such as the child care campaign.

“If we use the law that was originally passed to give workers the right to join unions, we’d lose more often than not” Hughes said. “So we’re forced to look at different ways to approach it.”

New York has more than four times as many union members as Texas, despite having 1.7 million fewer workers.

Nationally, union membership rose by 311,000, to 15.7 million, comprising 12.1 percent of the workforce. Membership declined in 27 states, including New Jersey and Massachusetts.

Filed by Daniel Massey of Crain’s New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, e-mail editors@workforce.com.

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