Photo via Jesse on Flickr

Photo via Jesse on Flickr

Some disturbing statistics on union membership in 2009 were released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics today.

With the economy hemorrhaging jobs—more than 3.3 million jobs lost in 2009—the latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show union membership in 2009 dropped slightly, from 12.4 percent of the workforce to 12.3 percent.

Nationwide, union membership dropped by 771,000, to 15.3 million in 2009, according to the BLS.

While the slight drop is concerning, the bad news is that private sector union membership is at an all-time low of 7.2%.  As the Wall Street Journal notes, that’s a 10% drop in private sector union membership from last year.

Organized labor lost 10% of its members in the private sector last year, the largest decline in more than 25 years. The drop is on par with the decline in total employment but threatens to significantly limit labor’s ability to influence elections and legislation.

On Friday, the Labor Department reported that private-sector unions lost 834,000 members, bringing membership down to 7.2% of the private-sector work force, from 7.6% the year before. The broader drop in U.S. employment and a small gain by public-sector unions helped keep the total share of union membership flat at 12.3% in 2009.

Public sector unions helped lessen the impact, but that now means public sector employees make up a majority of union members for the first time in history.  It’s worth noting that public sector unions likely increased their numbers due to majority sign-up laws on the books in 13 states, making it easy for public employees to join unions without intimidation.

Which brings us to the statement by Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis in response to these numbers, in which Solis, for the first time outside of an address to union audiences as Secretary, publicizes her support for the Employee Free Choice Act.

As workers across the country have seen their real and nominal wages decline as a result of the recession, these numbers show a need for Congress to pass legislation to level the playing field to enable more American workers to access the benefits of union membership. This report makes clear why the administration supports the Employee Free Choice Act.

I can’t imagine the White House was too happy with her aside there, though it’s largely inconsequential at this point politically.  She’s right, though.  The only thing to stop the bleeding is the Employee Free Choice Act.

Finally, Solis notes that today’s report shows that union members earn 28% higher wages than non-union workers, in addition to better wages and benefits.