In the last issue of WI Magazine, my end column explained how the traditional stereotype of union workers has become obsolete. While the idea of the typical union worker had always been a fat, mustachioed guy with work boots and a hard hat, union membership has fallen off significantly in the private sector. Thus the new typical union worker tends to be a high-earning, college educated female working in government – namely, teachers and librarians. Even more surprising is how fiscally conservative these new union members tend to be.
From my column:
Even more intriguing, the typical union household is much more fiscally conservative than traditional stereotypes would suggest. Among union members, 52% listed either “holding the line on taxes and government spending” or “improving the state’s economy and protecting jobs” as the top priority of the Legislature. Traditional union priorities, such as making health care and prescription drugs more affordable (12%), scored much lower than expected.
Among union households, President Obama is still popular, with a 64% approval rating. Yet Gov. Jim Doyle, who is to Wisconsin unions what Hugh Hefner is to teenage boys, actually has a high unfavorability rating, with 49.7% rating him “somewhat” or “very” unfavorably. This is even higher than the 47.4% unfavorable rating Doyle received from the public at large.
On Monday, the New York Times ran an article that also noted the shift in union workers to the public sector:
For the first time in American history, a majority of union members are government workers rather than private-sector employees, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced on Friday.
In its annual report on union membership, the bureau undercut the longstanding notion that union members are overwhelmingly blue-collar factory workers. It found that membership fell so fast in the private sector in 2009 that the 7.9 million unionized public-sector workers easily outnumbered those in the private sector, where labor’s ranks shrank to 7.4 million, from 8.2 million in 2008.
The article also notes what we already knew: that despite the recession, the total number government employment grew last year, inching up 16,000, to 22,516,000.