The Times West Virginian

West Virginia

January 31, 2009

W.Va. labor unions pick up members in 2008, report says

CHARLESTON — Labor union membership in West Virginia increased last year, according to an annual federal survey.

About 101,000 employed workers in West Virginia — 13.8 percent of the total — were members of a labor union in 2008, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. In comparison, about 97,000 or 13.3 percent of employed workers in the state were members of a labor union the year before, the bureau said.

Kenny Perdue, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, said, “I think there was a gain in just about every union. I know the service industry has increased, such as in health care. There was an increase with the Teamsters in their organizing of Overnight Trucking. As I look at those numbers I think of the American Federation of Teachers, which brought the West Virginia school service personnel in. That may not show up yet. Those are jobs in the public sector.

“There has been a continuous effort to organize in West Virginia,” Perdue said. “It has not stopped and it will not stop. It is our belief that workers want respect in the workplace. Typically it only comes from being involved in a union. We do think workers want to better themselves and have a decent wage and pension and health care. It is going to be our effort to give them that chance.”

The percentage of employed workers in West Virginia who carry a union card has fluctuated in recent years, from a low of 13.1 percent in 2003 to a high of 14.4 percent in 2005.

Perdue said declines can be traced to the loss of large unionized manufacturers, such as steel mills in the Northern Panhandle and chemical plants in the Kanawha Valley. Those businesses offer good-paying jobs with health care benefits and pensions, but many of those jobs “are gone maybe forever,” he said. “That’s not only a loss for our membership but for the per capita income in West Virginia. It hurts across the board.”

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