Number of federal union workers rose slightly

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 25, 2010

The percentage of union members in the federal workforce essentially stayed flat in 2009 compared with the previous year, although the number of union members on the federal payroll grew slightly, according to figures released Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Twenty-eight percent of federal workers were union members in 2009, compared with 28.1 percent in 2008, the agency said. The number of unionized workers climbed slightly to more than 1 million, versus 994,000 the year before. The number surpassed the percentage growth because the federal workforce grew by more than 50,000 in 2009, the bureau said.

The number of federal workers represented by unions -- dues-paying union members and other employees whose jobs are covered by union contracts -- climbed to 33.2 percent, up two-tenths from 2008.

Nationally, the bureau said local, state and government workers made up 51.5 percent of union members in 2009. Overall union membership dropped by one-tenth of a percentage point, to 12.3 percent, because of rising unemployment. Union membership has declined by 2.5 million people since the bureau started keeping records in 1983.

Federal worker unions remain an influential political force on Capitol Hill, especially among Washington-area lawmakers whose states and districts are home to millions of current and former federal employees and their families.

But the slow rate of growth could concern union leaders, who have fretted about the government's impending "brain drain" and their difficulty in recruiting newer, younger workers to join unions. Overall public-sector union membership could also slide further without federal funding for states and localities then forced to cut payrolls.

One potential bright spot for federal unions: Membership could climb noticeably in the coming years if the Obama administration or Congress grants collective bargaining rights to the Transportation Security Administration's approximately 50,000 workers.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company