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State union membership grew by 75,000 in 2017: Report

James Ludwig, right, a member of Plumbers Local

James Ludwig, right, a member of Plumbers Local Union No. 200, teaches students in a pre-apprenticeship program on March 13, 2017. Credit: Barry Sloan

Unions in New York State had a net gain of 75,000 members last year, a reversal from the loss recorded in 2016, new federal data show.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that the ranks of private-sector and government unions in the state totaled 2 million in 2017, up nearly 4 percent from a year earlier.

The bureau did not release data for Long Island and the state’s other nine regions. Labor experts and union activists said there are about 250,000 union members in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Union membership in the state has been on a roller coaster ride in recent years.

Last year’s increase followed a 96,000-member decline in 2016, a gain of 58,000 in 2015 and a drop of 6,000 in 2014.

However, New York has long been the nation’s most unionized state, a title it retained last year. Nearly 24 percent of workers are members of unions, with the largest concentration in government.

The least unionized state last year was South Carolina, where only 2.6 percent of workers are union members.

Mario Cilento, president of the state AFL-CIO, an umbrella group of unions, said on Friday federal data show more than 30 percent of the jobs created in New York were held by union members.

“When the labor movement is thriving, we not only raise the wages, benefits and conditions of employment of union members, we raise the standard of living and quality of life of all working people,” Cilento said.

The labor statistics bureau found that the earnings of union members in 2017 were more than $11,000 higher, on average, than the earnings of workers not in unions.

Separately, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a think tank in Washington, said the new federal data show workers younger than age 35 made up three-quarters of the increase in union membership nationwide, which totaled 262,000.

“These younger workers are increasing union membership more rapidly than other age groups,” said Brian Dew, a research assistant at the center.

People between the ages of 45 and 64 remain the largest group of union members.

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