January 1999, Vol. 122, No. 1
Labor month in review
Union membership edges up, but share continues to fall
Another real raise in 1998
Fewer workers experienced unemployment in 1997
The January ReviewThe January issue of Monthly Labor Review is our opportunity to recap the past years evolution of the general statutory framework of employment law, and to explore the case law and collective bargaining that emerge from that framework. This year, we had a generally light schedule of changes in the statutes guiding industrial relations. Richard R. Nelson, our correspondent on State labor law issues, reports that the volume of activity was light, and focused on traditional issues, such as wages and child labor. Similarly, Glenn Whittington finds that States continued to focus on traditional issues in workers compensation, with no sweeping change in any subject. In unemployment insurance law, Diana Runner reports that among the States generally, changes required increases in weekly benefit amounts and in taxable wage bases.
Several years ago, budgetary considerations led to a cut in the amount of analysis the Bureau of Labor Statistics could perform on the file of collective bargaining agreements the Bureau maintains. The Virginia Commonwealth University team of George R. Gray, Donald W. Meyers, and Phyllis S. Meyers, however, has mined those files for what is now their second article for Monthly Labor Review. In contrast to the focus on traditional issues in the legislatures, they find that negotiators are progressing toward a new collective bargaining paradigm, usually one that involves some sort of partnering agreement. This issues legal theme is rounded out by "The law at work," our quarterly department on issues of employment law.
Union membership edges up, but share continues to fallThe number of union members rose for the first time in 5 years, increasing from 16.1 million in 1997 to 16.2 million in 1998. Despite the rise in the number of members, the share of workers who were union members declined from 14.1 percent in 1997 to 13.9 percent in 1998.
In 1998, about 9.3 million private industry workers were members of unions, little changed from 1997. In contrast, the number of government workers who were union members rose from more than 6.7 million to about 6.9 million. The increase in the number of public-sector union members occurred in both Federal and local governments; State government union membership edged down.
The share of government workers who were union members rose over the year, while the private industry share fell. Government workers thus continue to have a much higher unionization rate than their private sector counterparts. Local government workers were the most likely to be unionized. More information can be found in news release USDL 9921, Union Members in 1998.
Another real raise in 1998Average hourly earnings increased 3.7 percent during 1998, similar to the annual increase of 3.8 percent in 1997. After adjustment for price increases, real hourly earnings were up 2.1 percent. With lower retail price inflation over the past 2 years, the gap has narrowed between real and unadjusted earnings increases.
Workers on private nonfarm payrolls earned an average of $12.99 per hour in December 1998, up from $12.53 in December 1997. The increased hourly earnings coupled with a 0.3-percent decline in average weekly hours produced an average weekly raise of 3.4 percent from December 1997 to December 1998. Average weekly earnings were $450.75 in December 1998, compared with $436.04 a year earlier. Real (price-adjusted) average weekly earnings grew by 1.8 percent in 1998. More information can be found in news release USDL 99-06, The Employment Situation: December 1998, USDL 9911, Consumer Price Index: December 1998, and USDL 9912, Real Earnings in December 1998.
Fewer workers experienced unemployment in 1997Of the more than 145 million persons who participated in the labor force in 1997, 15.6 million were unemployed at some point during the year. This translates into a "work-experience unemployment rate" of 10.8 percent. The work-experience unemployment rate was thus down 0.9 percentage point from 1996, and the lowest it has been in the 40-year history of the series.
The work experience measure of unemployment counts anyone who was unemployed at any time during the year. Because people move into and out of unemployment all the time, this count was more than twice the number unemployed in the average month of 1997 (6.7 million). Additional information is available from news release USDL 98470, Work Experience of the Population in 1997.
Communications regarding the Monthly Labor Review may be sent to the Editor-in-Chief at 2 Massachusetts Avenue NE, Room 2850, Washington, DC, 20212, or faxed to (202) 6915899.
News releases discussed above are available at: http://www.bls.gov/bls/newsrels.htm
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