The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced on Friday that for the first time in American history, a majority of union members are government workers rather than private-sector employees.
According to the labor bureau, 7.2 percent of private-sector workers were union members last year, down from 7.6 percent the previous year. That, labor historians said, was the lowest percentage of private-sector workers in unions since 1900.
Among government workers, union membership grew to 37.4 percent last year, from 36.8 percent in 2008.
Damon A. Silvers, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s policy director, said the decline in private-sector unionization “tells us that good jobs are disappearing faster than bad jobs.”
According to the labor bureau, median weekly earnings for full-time unionized workers were $908 last year, compared with $710 for workers not represented by unions. The bureau attributed this difference not just to unionization but also to variations by occupation, industry and company size.
Notwithstanding the recession, government employment grew last year, inching up 16,000, to 22,516,000, according to the bureau.
Fred Siegel, a visiting professor of history at St. Francis College in Brooklyn and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research organization, said, “There were enormous political ramifications” to the fact that public-sector workers are now the majority in organized labor.