Union membership grows in Oklahoma, report says
BY KYLE ARNOLD World Staff Writer
Thursday, January 24, 2013
1/24/13 at 8:15 AM
Oklahoma increased its union rolls by 22 percent in 2012, defying a drop in the number of organized workers nationwide, according to a federal report released Wednesday.
While the number of unionized workers in the state still ranks below the national average, 7.7 percent of all Oklahoma workers are members of a union and 9.1 percent are represented by a union in some form. That compares to 6.4 percent of workers as union members in 2011 and 7.7 percent with some kind of labor representation.
Stunning even union officials in Oklahoma, the report said the state gained 21,000 union workers last year even as some prominent union companies, such as American Airlines, laid off workers.
Union participation has been dropping steadily across the country since the 1950s, when more than a third of all workers were unionized. Nationally, union membership dropped to 11.3 percent of the workforce in 2012, down from 11.8 percent the year before.
"It's a surprise to me," said Jim Currey, president of the Oklahoma branch of the AFL-CIO, the largest labor federation in Oklahoma and the United States. "The economy here is really being driven by oil and gas, and that isn't an industry with a lot of union workers."
Oklahoma's union membership is now the highest since 2002, the year after the Legislature passed the Right to Work law, which bars companies from excluding non-union employees from their workforce.
The law helped cut union membership in Oklahoma from 119,000 workers in 2001 to 96,000 in 2003.
Oklahoma workers in labor unions dropped from 8.6 percent to 6.8 percent during that period, and fell as low as 5.4 percent in 2005.
But union participation turned upwards as oil prices spiked in 2005. Then, with the recession, union membership gains were halted as the traditionally union-heavy manufacturing sector cut jobs in Oklahoma.
Robert Bruno, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor who studies labor relations, said many states in the South saw union membership gains last year, possibly because of a trucking industry recovery.
"The bulk of the nation's union jobs are around the Great Lakes and on the East Coast, and those regions have been hammered by the recession," Bruno said. "There have been some gains in the South in states like Texas and Oklahoma, but they are small compared to the nation as a whole."
Oklahoma has seen job gains in some traditional union sectors. Manufacturing has gained 8,800 jobs since the beginning of 2011 and construction jobs have increased by 2,900, according to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Nationally, government workers remain the most highly unionized group, with 35.9 percent being members of unions compared to 6.6 percent of private-sector workers.
Bruno said that's because while many states have stripped away union rights, teachers, police officers and firefighters still have strong laws protecting their rights to collective bargaining in most states.
Union membership in Oklahoma, 2000-2012
|Year||Union workers in Oklahoma||% of workers in a union|
|2000|| 96,000 ||6.9%|
|2001*|| 119,000 ||8.6%|
|2002 ||128,000 ||9%|
|2003 ||96,000 ||6.8%|
|2004|| 86,000 ||6.1%|
|2005 ||77,000 ||5.4%|
|2006|| 93,000|| 6.4%|
|2007 ||103,000 ||7.1%|
|2008 ||102,000 ||6.6%|
|2009 ||83,000 ||5.7%|
|2010|| 77,000|| 5.5%|
|2011 ||94,000 ||6.4%|
|2012 ||115,000 ||7.5%|
*Right to Work law passed into law in
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Original Print Headline: Number of union members increases
Kyle Arnold 918-581-8380