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There was a surprise in the Bureau of Labor Statistics report Friday on union membership: Trade unions appear to have gained ground in Wisconsin last year.

Wisconsin’s union membership rate -- the percentage of wage and salary workers who belong to unions -- rose from 11.25 percent to 12.34 percent, the seventh biggest gain in the nation. This after 2012, when Wisconsin had the third largest decrease in the nation.

The change came as a surprise to union leaders and academics alike.

“That was the first thing that jumped out at me when I opened the spreadsheet,” said Barry Eidlin, a University of Wisconsin sociologist who studies labor unions. “It was definitely not what I was expecting at all.”

Phil Neuenfeldt, president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, was at a loss to explain the increase.

Western Wisconsin AFL-CIO president Bill Brockmiller suggested some unions have shifted some resources back into organizing after focusing on lobbying activity during the Legislature’s 2011 move to rein in public sector unions and the subsequent recall elections.

Brockmiller noted that some locals within the district have made small gains.

Not only does Wisconsin’s increase go against recent state trends, it counters a decades-long national trend. In 1983, more than one in five U.S. workers belonged to a union. Last year it was 11.3 percent, unchanged from the previous year.

“To the extent you would have been expecting anything, it would have been down,” Eidlin said. “We’ll have to see whether this is part of a trend. That is still up in the air.”

The numbers, drawn from a monthly survey of about 60,000 households, show that overall about 7.3 million public sector employees and 7.2 million in the private sector belonged to unions in 2013.

That translates to a rate of about 35 percent for public sector workers, but just 6.7 percent for those in the private sector.

Overall, protective service and education are the occupations with the highest union membership rates, while sales, farming, fishing and forestry are the lowest. Among private sector industries, transportation and utilities are the most unionized.

The report shows Wisconsin had an increase of about 24,000 union members in 2013, while the overall number of wage and salaried workers dipped by about 36,000.

James Sherk, a senior policy analyst in labor economics for the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the biggest statistically significant change was in the financial sector, with some marginal increase in wholesale and retail trade unionization.

Even one union opponent was unable to explain the change.

“Right now it’s just interesting,” said David Denholm, president of the Public Service Research Foundation, an independent research organization focused on union influence on public policy. “There’s no pat explanation for it, but it’s worth looking at.”

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(26) comments

TotemPole

Unfortunately, it's pretty difficult for any organization to survive without involvement in political parties.

you'll never see a spark, sparky. you're blinded by something that happened to your grandpa in the 1930's. move forward, buddy.

unions are a good thing for the American workers. I hope this trend continues

Chatty

Unemployment is down in Wisconsin and it should be noted that jobs that are union affiliated require their new employees to join the union. I wouldn't necessarily attribute support for unions, based upon numbers, if it's a requirement to join in some jobs. I'm quite familiar with many who have had to join unions because of their job, but don't necessarily agree with their thick involvement in particular political parties.

Mobley

I thought Walker hurt the unions. I guess not! What does that tell you about him and his leadership? Only fools and rich people vote republican.

Go unions!

Union Man

Your bass ackwards with your blame laying sparkles..you need to start at the top and work your way down..covetousness is the root of this country's problems..and always will be.

2bad4u

Waiting..your so smart!!! Sound real intelligent, a real know it all..We all owe it you, thanks for the input..

Union Man

Years of hard work and Quality Craftsmanship = Pension...a generation is missing out. Funny how things have to be constantly " re-learned".

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Hollow

Try again spark boy. Not one thing you say is valid.

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Boss

Sparky, all that rubbish you talk is a lame excuse to send jobs overseas anyways. If Fatcats don't like American workers then get out of my country and move overseas! I represent VOCAL-Victims Of Corporations Acting Lordlike

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lookout

I think sparky is one of those employers that refuses to pay a living wages and think his lying propaganda well make everyone want to work for less saying yes master I'll wok for less any day and never complain.

Farmer Jayne

Or perhaps he is someone with work-ethic and marketable skills, and doesn't need or want to hide under the skirt of a union.

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lookout

Your a complete idiotic fool Sparky

GOPIT

Looks like the only reason why union membership is growing (beside maybe it can't drop any more) is that Unions are finally taking the advise of Gov. Walker and shaping up instead of just taking member dues. Gov. Walker gave union members the same rights as the average consumer..the right to walk away from a bad product/service. Union members should be thanking Gov. Walker!

Hollow

Sorry gopit-nice try. Walker might have knocked unions down but they will always get back up.

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Hollow

Times have changes and your grandfather with all do respect was a bigot.

Hollow

You are an idiot!

Hollow

I meant spark is an idiot!

Boss

I agree with Hollow, I was never union supportive until I found out some employees get denied opportunities to learn more to benefit their companies after many years of dedicated service and get discarded like dead rats. Some employees need protection from Corporate Fatcats who's spoiled brat kids take over the company and won't acknowledge what some employees did to keep their daddy's company going. And yes Sparky, some don't deserve to stay with some companies but maybe the current management needs to be replaced not the employee. Now days It's not how much you know but who you....you know.

Union Man

waiting for the spark..what a low life for making comments like that

Boss

I agree, he/she probably had everything given to them to talk like that.

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Hollow

Waiting for the spark-you are an idiot!

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ahasp

@WFTS2014

I hate to tell you, but the early Christians were commies:

Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

Oh, and the Bible also says that you are supposed to pay your taxes.

Romans 13:6This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

Please note that it doesn't say anything about whining about paying taxes.

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ahasp

@WFTS2014. I just looked up "trade union" in my Bible concordance; it isn't there.

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lookout

Unions are the only thing that keep companies from paying wages that force people to use public assistance. Those companies that don't pay a living wage count on government to pay for their failing to pay living wages.

Farmer Jayne

Aren't you forgetting that an employee is free to market their labor on the open market? You talk like workers today are indentured servants.

Balancr

Talk about your ultimate Scott Walker backfires. I thought the unions were dead? I thought corporations were people and organized labor (i.e. the little man) was a thing of the past? What is happening in Wisconsin? I thought Scott Walker was the one making the tough decisions?

Hollow

Good job Wisconsin! It is an employers market so employees have to stand together so the do not get screwed any more than they are. No matter what Walker and republicans do they will never break the back of unions. Strength in numbers!

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