The United Automobile Workers union eclipsed 400,000 members for the first time since 2008, drawing new members and dues last year from the resurgent automotive industry auto suppliers in the South and from higher-education employees.
It was the fifth straight year the union reported a membership gain, reporting more than 12,000 new members last year and 403,000 members total, according to an annual report it must file each March with the U.S. Department of Labor.
Last week, UAW President Dennis Williams said the union now represents more than 10,000 workers in the gaming industry and 25,000 higher-education workers.
“As the UAW grows, our members are better able to take care of their families and support their communities,” Williams said. “We understand success and quality products are helping UAW members build a better future for all Americans.”
Still, the gains are relatively modest compared with the UAW’s historic membership levels. Just a decade ago, the UAW had more than 650,000 members. Its peak was 1.5 million in 1979.
The UAW was hit hard during the 2000s as General Motors, Ford and Chrysler closed plants and shed tens of thousands of employees before and during their financial restructurings.
Nationally, union membership has declined dramatically over the past three to four decades.
The union-membership rate for all unions in the U.S. was 11.1 percent last year, or 14.6 million workers, according to the Department of Labor. In 1983, the union-membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.
Union membership has been under pressure from right-to-work laws that have been passed in 25 states that allow workers at employers with union representation to opt out of dues.
The UAW’s membership losses, and its struggle to organize new workers, has put an immense financial strain on its finances.
The union disclosed that its total assets dropped to $978.1 million in 2014, down $11 million from $989.9 million in 2013.
Last week, UAW Secretary-Treasurer Gary Casteel told union delegates attending a two-day bargaining meeting that the union has lost money each year for at least the past five years but is on the road to financial recovery.
In 2014, the UAW lost $10 million, Casteel revealed in a short presentation Tuesday. But 2014 was a big improvement over 2010, when the union lost $42 million.
Now, Casteel said, the UAW’s finances are improving in part because it has reduced its professional staff by 115 employees since 2010. The UAW now employs about 670, down from 785 in 2010.
“I predict that we will have a balanced budget … for the first time in many years this coming year,” Casteel said.