Union Membership Plummets To Lowest Level Since The 1930s

declining union membership

By Sam Hananel

The nation's labor unions suffered sharp declines in membership last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Wednesday, led by losses in the public sector as cash-strapped state and local governments laid off workers and -- in some cases -- limited collective bargaining rights. The union membership rate fell from 11.8 percent to 11.3 percent of all workers, the lowest level since the 1930s.

Total union membership fell by about 400,000 workers to 14.4 million. More than half the loss -- about 234,000 -- came from government workers including teachers, firefighters and public administrators.

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The losses add another blow to a labor movement already stretched thin by fighting efforts in states like Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan to curb bargaining rights and weaken union clout.

But unions also saw losses in the private sector, even as the economy expanded modestly. That rate fell of membership fell from 6.9 percent to 6.6 percent, a troubling sign for the future of organized labor, as job growth has generally taken place at nonunion firms.

"To employers, it's going to look like the labor movement is ready for a knockout punch," said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. "You can't be a movement and get smaller."

Unions have steadily lost members since their peak in the 1950s, when about one of every three workers was in a union. By 1983, roughly 20 percent of American workers were union members.

Losses in the public sector are hitting unions particularly hard since that has been one of the few areas where membership was growing over the past two decades. About 51 percent of union members work in government, where until recently, there had been little resistance to union organizing.

That began to change when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed a law in 2011 eliminating most union rights for government workers. The state lost about 46,000 union members last year, mostly in the public sector.

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Union officials blame losses on the lingering effects of the recession, as well as GOP governors and state lawmakers who have sought to weaken union rights.

"Our still-struggling economy, weak laws and political as well as ideological assaults have taken a toll on union membership, and in the process have also imperiled economic security and good, middle class jobs," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

In Indiana, where a new right-to-work law took effect last March, the state lost about 56,000 union members. The law prohibits unions from requiring workers to pay union fees, even if they benefit from a collective bargaining agreement. Michigan lawmakers approved a similar measure in December.

Another problem for unions is an aging membership that is not being replaced by younger members. By age, the union membership rate was highest among workers ages 55 to 64 (14.9 percent) and lowest among those ages 16 to 24 (4.2 percent).

In New York, the state with the highest union density, nearly one-quarter of the workforce belonged to a union. North Carolina had the lowest at 2.9 percent.

Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members in 2012 had median weekly earnings of $943, while those who were not union members earned $742.

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I was from a state with large Union presense, They were good for the people who could get those jobs but bad when strikes or layoffs came. Unions made my parents feel like criminals when they had to take jobs off the books just to keep food on the table,Unions showed me the face of true mob violence it it scared he crap out of me as a kid. As an adult I find little has changed in the Unions and how they handle adversity. if the unions fail it will be because Union leadership has run theminto the ground and priced them all out of Jobs. That is a reality that the Mob mentality of union members cannot quite grasp.

February 11 2013 at 7:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Unions have far outlived their usefulness and exist only to protect the drones....
They have priced themselves out of the majority of available work, but revert to the standard Union Playbook by bringing out the thugs when a non-union company is awarded a bid. This happens even when NO union companies bid on the same job. their sense of importance and entitlement is incredible.
The fact that our elected officials roll over and play dead for them when they comprise less than 12% of the workforce, lets you know that the Graft and Corruption System is alive and well in politics....

January 25 2013 at 1:27 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

I worked for a Union company for 30 years. The Union fought for a better wage which was very good.
The worst thing about their power, they would save jobs for lazy usless people.
Guess what, the people that cared and wanted to work hard to keep their jobs, had to work harder to cover up the others lazyness, which is a terrible shame.

January 25 2013 at 12:49 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to circustwo's comment

I did also and the lazy no goods had it made while the hard workers made up for their laziness. Also these unions backed Obama for President big time. I wander what they are saying about their "savior" now?

January 25 2013 at 1:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm a veteran and served my country with pride. All I can say is that I CANNOT WAIT TO WORK AT WAL-MART FOR $8.00 AN HOUR!!! YEAH!!!

January 25 2013 at 11:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Unions have made themselves look totally ignorant in the last few years. They demand that all places of employment become unionized, they support political candidates who care nothing about the working class, and they take union dues from their members but give little in return. Union leaders have become fat cats who ignore their memberships and do not ask the membership for direction in policy issues. Has any union shown its membership the salaries and bonuses given to their upper level management? They are like the prez in that there is no transparency with it people.

January 25 2013 at 11:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Charlie's comment

if unions are so unnecessary, why are repubs spending millions to stop them?

January 25 2013 at 12:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I can see why. Here in Chicago they give massive amounts of dues money to political canidates. Then once elected, they turn right around and get rid of the jobs and hire non-union, connected companies to replace the workers
Also, the main complaint here is that they do not listen to the membership and do whatever they want.

January 25 2013 at 10:48 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

"and then there were none" That's the headline that will do wonders for the economy. The dinosaur is dead, it's time to bury it along with it's corruption.

January 25 2013 at 9:55 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to William's comment

Along with Government corruption. Corruption is what's killing this country, cause it is everywhere.

January 25 2013 at 1:31 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The unions have priced themselves out of business. In order for any business to survive, and unions are a business-------They must be able to compete. Unions at one time was a good asset, but in the last several years, the union leaders have concentrated more on the union dues than they have the members. The same thing has happened to our govt. which is also concentrating more on the money (raising taxes) than it is the hard working people who pay these taxes. This type of govt. will also go by the wayside.

January 25 2013 at 9:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The union I'm in is nothing more than a tool for the company. It's shameless.
If unions go extinct, they will have done it to themselves.

January 25 2013 at 9:34 AM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply


January 25 2013 at 9:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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