The union vote was considered critical to President Barack Obama's victory in states such as Ohio.
While unions representing U.S. manufacturing might â¿¿ auto and steel â¿¿ have become smaller, the emphasis in recruiting new members has shifted to the service sector.
The Service Employees International Union, which represents nurses and lower-wage service employees including janitors, security, hospital, home health and child care workers, has doubled in size since 1996, to 2.1 million workers. It says it has added 50,000 workers annually in the last decade.
The union recently organized about 3,000 security officers in Philadelphia commercial office buildings, hospitals and universities, winning a three-year contract that provides salary increases, health care for full-time workers and sick days.
Kevin Upshaw, a 46-year-old Army veteran and security officer at the University of Pennsylvania, says the contract will eventually boost his hourly wage from about $13 to about $15. Just an importantly, he says it'll also reduce medical expenses for his asthmatic wife, which have cost them about $11,000 over the past three years. "That's taking a big load off our shoulders," he says.
"The union gives us a lot more stability," Upshaw says. "It's making this job a career and it's taking us out of poverty."
Upshaw says he had some doubts at first about unions, but the more he heard, the more he liked. "Some people think they're only out to take our money," he says. "But like anything in life, you've got to pay for any service that's provided."
Gabe Morgan, president of the SEIU Pennsylvania State Council, says the yearlong campaign succeeded because it wasn't directed at a single company and workers had a common purpose.
"You have folks who live in the same neighborhoods, who may or may not know each other, doing the same job at different places," he says. "That kind of gives each other the strength to persevere. ... Ironically, it also made the employers more comfortable. It was easier for them to agree to something when they know their competitor was doing the same thing. No one was individually at risk."