The United Auto Workers union reportedly lost 35,000 members last year, according to new documents filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.
The Detroit News reported on the documents last Friday, which showed the union included 395,703 members last year. In 2017, 430,871 were part of the UAW. The figures reflect the first decrease in membership since the Great Recession in 2009 when the union included just 355,191.
The UAW argued the slip was due to payments that fluctuated at the end of the year, though it says about 10,000 members weren’t counted in the documents by the time it filed the documents with the federal government. It added that the numbers fluctuate monthly with an average of 405,000 members throughout 2018. Its highest point was February 2018, when the UAW showed 437,649 members, according to membership dues received.
Top officials in the UAW brushed off the reported decline and said its average numbers show the union is actually poised for growth in 2019. According to the report, the UAW has added 10,500 new members since August 2018 in the gaming, auto supplier, higher education, and other sectors.
Harley Shaiken, a labor and global economics specialist at the University of California-Berkeley, said declining membership is never a good sign; however, it often points to tough economic times ahead. The decline also comes as the UAW prepares to wage a battle with General Motors and its decision to idle four production plants in the U.S.
The current labor agreement expires this September and the UAW has said it’s prepared to fight to keep the plants open past their current expiration dates.