U.S. union membership continues to drop

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Union membership continued to fall throughout the country last year with the percentage of unionized workers sliding to 11.3 percent from 11.8 percent in 2011.

In Pennsylvania, the percentage of union membership is higher, but also is dropping. In 2011, 14.6 percent of employed Pennsylvanians were union members; that fell to 13.5 percent last year.

Nationally, last year there were 14.4 million union members, down from 14.8 million in 2011.

William Spriggs, a labor economist with the AFL-CIO, said while he expected -- given the sluggish economy -- that union membership would be down, it was a bit surprising to see union membership climbing in some "right to work" states.

Louisiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma and North Carolina not only have legislation that makes it illegal to have a closed, or union only, workplace, but they also have anti-union governors. Yet Louisiana gained 30,000 union members as the percentage of unionized workers in the state rose from 4.5 percent to 6.2 percent.

PG graphic: Union membership continues to decline
(Click image for larger version)

Kentucky's union members grew by 24,000 as the percentage rose from 8.9 percent to 10 percent. Oklahoma's union membership rate grew from 6.4 percent to 7.5 percent as the state added 11,000 union jobs. North Carolina, which has the lowest rate of unionization, at 2.9 percent for 2011 and 2012, nevertheless added 7,000 more union members in 2012.

"The union movement is not dead, it is still organizing," Mr. Spriggs said.

Unions, he said, are concentrating on growing sectors of the population, such as Hispanic workers whose union membership has gone up slightly overall, from 9.7 percent in 2011 to 9.8 percent in 2012. The number is higher among Hispanic men, 10.1 percent of whom were union members, up from 9.8 percent in 2011, or an increase of 70,000 union members. The percentage of Hispanic women who were union members stayed steady at 9.6 percent while their union membership rose by 86,000 for the year.

Part of the decline in union membership, Mr. Spriggs said, can be attributed to the cut in unionized industries. Construction lost 39,000 jobs overall as its number of employed union members fell by 54,000 from 2011 to 2012. The percentage of union membership in construction declined from 14 percent in 2011 to 13.2 percent in 2012.

Manufacturing unions also lost ground. While the number of manufacturing jobs rose by 342,000, the number of members of manufacturing unions fell by 86,000 with the percentage of union membership declining from 10.5 percent in 2011 to 9.6 percent in 2012.

New York still has the highest rate of union members, at 23.2 percent of the employees, but that is down from 24.1 percent from 2011 as the number of union members fell by 65,000. Alaska is second in union membership with its 2012 rate of union membership up to 22.4 percent from 2011's rate of 22.1 percent. In that same time period, the state's overall employment fell by 8,000 workers and union membership fell by 1,000 workers.

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Ann Belser: abelser@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1699.


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