Capital Briefs

Union membership down in govt, up in private sector

This article originally appeared on heartland.org

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has released its annual Union Members Summary report on labor union membership in the United States for 2013.

The report indicates that the total level of union penetration in the workforce remained the same at 11.3 percent in 2012 and 2013. Union density increased in the private sector by 0.1 percent and was accompanied by a decrease in the public sector of 0.6 percent. Total union membership reportedly increased by 162,000.

Changes of this sort have been fairly common since modern record keeping on union membership began in 1983, but it has not indicated a reversal of the long-term downward trend.

For example, total union density remained at 13.9 percent in 1998 and 1999 and then again at 13.5 percent in 2000 and 2001. It remained at 12.5 percent in 2004 and 2005, only to fall to 12.0 percent in 2006 and then increase slightly.

Down in 28 States, Up in 20

In 2013, union density declined in 28 states, remained the same in two states and increased in 20 states. The big gains were in Alabama (1.5 percent) and in Nebraska and Tennessee (both at 1.3 percent). The largest declines were in Louisiana (1.9 percent), Oregon (1.8 percent) and Utah (1.3 percent).

New York retained its distinction of being the most heavily unionized state with a density of 24.4 percent up 1.1 percent from 23.2 percent in 2012. North Carolina is still the least unionized state with a rate of 3.0 percent despite an increase of 0.1 percent from 2.9 percent in 2012.

Union Gains in Wisconsin

It is notable, considering all the controversy surrounding Governor Scott Walker’s labor relations reforms, that union density in Wisconsin increased from 11.2 percent to 12.3 percent. It is also worth noting that union density in Michigan, which became a right-to-work state in 2012 fell by only 0.3 percent from 16.6 percent to 16.3 percent.

Keep in mind this information comes from the Current Population Survey (CPS), which is extremely accurate but is subject to the statistical and sampling error of all survey data. Some experts believe the CPS is accurate to plus or minus 0.2 percent. In a workforce of more than 129 million that is still about 250,000 persons, so a reported increase of 162,000 union members is well within the margin of error.

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