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Despite job losses, Connecticut sees union numbers grow

Despite losing 2,000 jobs over the course of 2016, union membership rose by 6,000 in Connecticut, according to numbers released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Connecticut was one of sixteen states that saw an increase in the number of union members. The percentage of workers represented by labor unions grew from 17.4 percent in 2015 to 18.4 percent in 2016. Nationally, the rate of unionization fell.

There was a dramatic 61 percent increase in the number of people who decline union membership while still being represented by a union for collective bargaining – sometimes known as agency fee payers.

The number of agency fee payers grew from 8,000 in 2015 to 13,000 in 2016, and now account for 4.5 percent of workers represented by unions.

 

Agency-fee payers avoid paying for union political activity while still being represented for collective bargaining. They pay a reduced rate out of their paychecks. In Connecticut, even non-members are required to pay collective-bargaining fees.

Overall, the number of people in Connecticut represented by unions grew 4 percent in 2016.

Union membership remains highest in the public sector nationally as well as in the state of Connecticut. Nationally, 34.4 percent of workers in the public sector – either state or local – are represented by unions. In 2015, 61.1 percent of Connecticut union members worked in the public sector.

State labor unions have been pushing to grow. Over the course of 2016, Connecticut assistant attorneys general voted to be represented by the American Federation of Teachers and 200 public defenders voted to join Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Public sector unions have also been pushing to gain membership through orientation programs for personal care attendants through the PCA Workforce Council. Although PCAs are not automatically part of a union, they are required to attend an orientation during which members of SEIU 1199 make a pitch for attendees to sign union cards.

Although, home health care companies can provide their own orientation for PCAs, all workers are required to attend the union pitch in order to work. There have been accusations of harassment by some PCAs, while others have claimed to have dues deducted from their pay without signing the union card.

Union membership nationally continued to decline in 2016, dropping to 10.7 percent. Connecticut had the fourth highest union membership rate in the nation behind New York, Alaska and Hawaii.

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Marc E. Fitch

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