17 percent of Oregon workers are union members

17 percent of Oregon workers are union members
In this May 20, 2011, photo, people gather on Court Street NE in Salem, Ore., and on the front steps of the state Capitol for a rally of Local 503 of Service Employees International Union. Oregon is one of the top states in the country when it comes to union membership, with more people joining unions here each year, according to figures recently released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Experts say efforts by Service Employees International Union Local 503 — the largest union in the state — account for much of that success in the face of national apathy, if not outright hostility, toward organized labor. (AP Photo/Statesman-Journal, Kobbi R. Blair)

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Efforts to organize nurses and home health care workers kept the percentage of Oregon's workforce represented by unions at one of the highest levels in the United States.

Union members make up 17 percent of all workers in Oregon, seventh-highest in the nation, according to figures recently released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The national average is about 12 percent.

The total number of union workers in Oregon increased last year to 270,000, up from 211,000 in 2006.

The swell is thanks in large part to efforts by the Service Employees International Union to organize health workers, said Bob Bussel, an associate professor and director of the Labor Education and Research Center at the University of Oregon.

"Oregon has been one of the pioneering places where people involved in health care were granted the right to unionize," Bussel told the Statesman Journal.

A political climate friendly to unions has also helped unions expand in Oregon despite public apathy and hostility to union activity in much of the United States, Bussel said.

SEIU Local 503 Executive Director Heather Conroy estimates her union now represents nearly one-third of the workers in Oregon nursing homes. Overall, SEIU's membership has doubled during the past decade to 52,000.

It may not be coincidental that the rise in Oregon union membership has coincided with the economic crisis, said Elana Guiney, spokeswoman for Oregon AFL-CIO.

"Our membership has been growing since the start of the recession," Guiney said. "We notice a lot more interest. We've gotten a lot more calls from people interested in organizing since the recession started."

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Information from: Statesman Journal