Union Membership Still Skidding

Union Membership Still Skidding

At the national level, union membership fell in 2012 from the 2011 reading, tumbling from11.8 percent of the work force to 11.3 percent. Interestingly, union membership was down in the private sector and among government employees. Private union membership dropped from 7,202,000 to 7,037,000, pushing the percentage of workers in unions from 6.9 to 6.6 percent. In the public sector, union membership dipped from 7,562,000 to 7,328,000 and the percent unionization declined from 37 to 35 percent.

Government union membership remains greater than the private sector membership even though there are more than five times more private sector employees than public sector workers. The bulk of public union membership is accounted for by local government where about half of government workers are employed and where over 40 percent of workers are in unions. By contrast only 27 percent of Federal and 31 percent of state employees are in unions. Of course, with the military excluded from union membership, the Federal percentage unionization is lower than state and local percentages.

How did Pennsylvania fare? Total union membership (private and public) fell from 779,000 in 2011 to 734,000 in 2012 which led to a drop from 14.6 percent unionization to 13.5 percent. The breakout of changes to public and private union members are not available as yet but, given the slide in local and Federal job over the past year, there is reason to suppose that the number of government union members was also down somewhat.

But the biggest change would have been in the private count. Overall modest private sector job gains resulted from a mixture of weakness in construction and private education and strength in finance, leisure and hospitality, and professional and technical services. Education and construction have relatively high percent unionization while the faster growth sectors have very low percentages of unionization. Thus the mix effect could account for some of the decline. However, there is almost certainly a general slippage in unionization across many industries.

Many other strong union states also experienced major declines in percent unionized workers. Among the biggest drops occurred in Wisconsin where the percentage fell from 13.3 to 11.2. Maryland saw unionization slip from 12.4 to 10.6 percentage, West Virginia down from 13.8 to 12.1, Illinois down from 16.2 to 14.0 percent and Connecticut sliding from 16.6 to 14.0 percent.

In short, the decline in union membership is widespread and is quite heavy in some of the most heavily unionized states. This has happened notwithstanding the enormous effort of the NLRB on behalf of organized labor to promote membership and union powers.

There can be little doubt that heavily unionized states, particularly those with high numbers of public sector unions, are politically blue states. Unionized workers are a major political force, especially those with government jobs. Their interests lie with politicians will support spending that protects their jobs and compensation.