UAW says membership rose 1.8 percent in 2016

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Membership in the United Auto Workers union rose by 7,300 workers in 2016 to 415,963, the seventh straight year of small gains for the American labor union.

The Detroit-based union said in a filing with the U.S. Labor Department that membership rose 1.8 percent last year.

The UAW’s ranks are down dramatically from the more than 700,000 members it had in 2002 and from its all-time high of nearly 1.5 million members in 1979.

The declines have come as U.S. automakers have reduced hourly employment and the UAW has struggled to organize workers at U.S. auto plants operated by Japanese, German and Korean automakers.

The UAW represents about 150,000 workers at General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV. The union also represents workers at auto suppliers and in many other industries.

Since falling to a low of 355,191 in 2009, UAW membership has risen 17 percent.

UAW President Dennis Williams told reporters recently the union’s finances have improved as membership has continued to grow.

The UAW reported assets of nearly $1 billion and liabilities of $135.6 million. The Labor Department filing includes a new $130.3 million ability to help fund an independent retiree health care trust for UAW staff announced in late 2015.

In January, the U.S. Labor Department said overall U.S. labor union membership rate fell to 10.7 percent in 2016, down 0.4 percentage point -- the lowest level since the government started keep track in 1983.

The overall number of workers in a union declined by 240,000 to 14.6 million last year.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Sandra Maler