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Published: Tuesday, 3/25/2008

Numbers in unions increase in nation

The number of union workers nationwide was on the increase last year, but it fell in Ohio and Michigan, primarily because of the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Union membership across the country was on the decline for years, but last year 15.7 million members were recorded, up 0.1 percent from the year before, according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report yesterday.

In Ohio, about 4,000 members were lost last year from 730,000 the year before, a decline of 0.5 percent. In Michigan, the loss was 7 percent.

Labor experts cite a loss of manufacturing jobs and the rise of the service sector as being responsible.

"They face an uphill battle," said Marick Masters, a professor of business administration with the University of Pittsburgh. "They're losing manufacturing jobs to overseas markets, but also, more jobs exist now in industries that lack a demand for unions."

Paul LaPorte, senior economist of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, said manufacturing states of Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana will continue to lose union jobs.

Some unions in Ohio, however, are gaining members.

Service Employees International Union added 7,367 in 2007, said spokesman Jennifer Farmer.

"This was an important year in the union's history," she said. The union typically grows each year, but considers 2007 one of its best years in the past decade, she said.

Similarly, the United Food and Commercial Workers union is growing.

"We've been doing some advertising, gotten some contacts from people looking to join," said Jeff Stephens, president of UFCW Local 911, which has 8,500 members in the Toledo area. "We're hoping to grow next year."

Economists said 2007 was a positive year for unions nationwide.

"Maybe they've begun to stop the hemorrhaging and reverse the trend," said Mr. Masters.

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