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MailTribune.com
  • Union strength grows in Oregon

  • While employment has declined in Oregon, the percentage of workers who are union members has grown, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics report released this month.
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  • While employment has declined in Oregon, the percentage of workers who are union members has grown, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statics report released this month.
    Although union membership dropped slightly to 250,000 in 2009 from 259,000 in 2008, union membership rose to 17 percent last year from 16.6 percent in 2008. Another 22,000 workers were represented by unions, although they weren't members. The highest percentage of union membership on record in Oregon was 21.6 percent in 1989.
    Oregon ranked No. 11 out of the 50 states and District of Columbia for union membership percentage. New York topped the list with 25.2 percent of its wage and hourly workers belonging to unions. Hawaii followed with 23.5 percent; Alaska, 22.3 percent; and Washington, 20.2 percent. California was No. 10 at 17.2 percent.
    "The West tends to be heavily unionized," said David Kong, a statistician with BLS in San Francisco.
    Nationally, the number of workers belonging to a union dropped by 771,000 to 15.3 million in 2009, reflecting declining employment overall in the country. Union members accounted for 12.3 percent of employed wage and salary workers, essentially unchanged from 12.4 percent a year earlier.
    In 1983, the first year for which comparable national union data were available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent. The BLS reported Oregon has had union membership rates above the U.S. average since 1989.
    In the second quarter of 2009, Oregon ranked No. 25 in average weekly wages, according to the latest figures compiled by the BLS.
    Oregon's latest unemployment figure remains above 10 percent and Jackson County's jobless rate is above 11 percent.
    While mining, logging and manufacturing areas have been hard-hit by job losses, public sector employment dropped less than 1 percent, Kong said.
    "The employment pie has gotten smaller, but the decrease in the public sector hasn't been as much as the private sector," Kong said.
    While the West Coast, as well as Alaska and Hawaii, have higher union membership, southeastern states were on the low end: North Carolina, 3.1 percent; Arkansas, 4.2 percent; South Carolina, 4.5 percent; Georgia, 4.6 percent; Virginia, 4.7 percent; and Mississippi, 4.8 percent.
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.
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