On unions, the economy and ice cream

Monday, April 1, 2002


This is a big week at St. Francis Medical Center.

On Thursday and Friday roughly 400 registered nurses at the hospital will have the opportunity to vote on whether they want to let the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 represent them in negotiating a contract.

Both sides have pretty much laid out their arguments, and it comes down to this: The nurses for the union feel underpaid, overworked and ignored by management, which they say has had the cumulative effect of hurting patient care. The nurses against the union say they don't need to pay dues to an outside "food workers union" to go to management when they can do it themselves.

While I have my opinions, it's not for me to say how these nurses should vote. But I have done a bit of research that might provide them some context. Here are a few facts:

In 2001, 13.5 percent of wage and salary workers were union members, unchanged from 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The union membership rate has fallen from a high of 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available.

In both 2001 and 2000, about 16.3 million wage and salary workers were union members.

Nearly four in 10 government workers were union members in 2001, compared with less than one in 10 private wage and salary workers.

Protective service workers, a group that includes police officers and firefighters, had the highest unionization rate among all occupations, at 38 percent.

Local government, which includes many workers in the heavily unionized occupations of teachers, firefighters and police officers, overall had the highest unionization rate, at 43.1 percent.

The construction and manufacturing industries also had higher-than-average unionization rates, at 18.4 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively. The nonagricultural industry with the lowest unionization rate in 2001 was finance, insurance and real estate -- 2.1 percent.

In 2001, union membership rates were higher among men (15.1 percent) than women (11.7 percent).

Blacks were more likely to be union members (17 percent) than either whites (13.1 percent) or Hispanics (11.3 percent). Black men continued to have the highest rate of union membership among all the major worker groups, at 18.9 percent. Hispanic women and white women had the lowest rates of unionization, at 10.7 percent and 11.1 percent, respectively.

Workers ages 45 to 54 were more likely to be unionized than either their younger or older counterparts. Full-time workers were more than twice as likely as part-time workers to be members of a union.

Just something to think about.

We all scream …

Michele Sedlock remembers as a little girl wildly chasing after Mr. Softy, an ice-cream truck in her hometown of Springfield, Ill., desperate for a cool treat.

Now, the Cape Girardeau resident who recently started operating her own ice cream truck will have sweet-toothed children chasing after her.

"I've thought about it for a while," she said. "I love kids, and it's fun to see how excited they get when they hear me coming. It's nice to make kids happy."

The customized Plymouth Voyager has already made a few practice runs near Arena Park, but Sedlock says she'll be making rounds all over town when it gets warmer and children should listen for the music that will come from her truck.

The business -- which she calls Ziggy's Ice Cream -- will offer ice cream sandwiches, push-up pops, chocolate tacos and snow cones, as well as other icy treats.

She fully expects her business to be a success.

"It's ice cream," she added. "Everyone loves ice cream. Where can I go wrong?"

Labor conditions unchanged

Missouri labor market conditions were relatively unchanged in February, as the national economy appeared to have either bottomed out or begun a recovery. The state's unadjusted unemployment rate fell one-tenth of a percent to 5.2 percent in February, which is only two-tenths of a point higher than a year ago. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained the same as January's figure at 4.7 percent, and only a tenth of a point above the February 2001 rate.

Nine Missouri counties reported double digit unemployment rates in February, including Pemiscot (10.0), Miller (10.6), Wright (10.8), Washington (11.0), Douglas (12.3), Reynolds (12.4), Wayne (13.7), Taney (20.2) and Stone (23.3).

Most service-producing industries have also shed jobs over the past year. Retail trade is an exception, as growth in the past couple of months seems to have lifted employment above the year-ago level by about 3,500. Health services have continued to be a source of strong growth, with employment increasing by 5,400 jobs since February 2001.

Scott Moyers is business editor for the Southeast Missourian. Send your comments, business news, information or questions to Biz Buzz, 301 Broadway, Cape Girardeau, Mo., 63702-0699, e-mail to smoyers@semissourian.com or call 335-6611, extension 137.

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