The percentage of U.S. workers who were union members fell in 2006 to 12% from 12.5% a year earlier, The Bureau of Labor Statistics said Jan. 25. The number belonging to a union fell by 326,000 in 2006 to 15.4 million.

The union membership rate has steadily declined from 20.1% in 1983, the first year for which comparable data are available, the agency said.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research, a Washington think-tank, said that for the first time since statistics were available, union membership rates were lower in manufacturing than in the rest of the economy. The group said the largest decrease occurred in manufacturing, where union membership dropped 1.3 percentage points to just 11.7% of industrial workers.

The report showed workers in the public sector had a union membership rate nearly five times that of private-sector employees, 36.2% to 7.4%. Those in education, training and library occupations had the highest unionization rate, at 37%.

In 2006, full-time wage and salary workers who were union members had median weekly earnings of $833, compared with a median of $642 for workers who were not represented by unions, according to the report.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007