In 2012, the union membership rate across the United States was 11.3%, down from 11.8% in 2011. Union membership in Minnesota fell from 15.1% in 2011 to 14.2% in 2012, according to the survey.

The agency reported 14.366 million people were union members in the United States last year, down from 14.764 million in 2011. Some 35.9% of public sector workers were unionists in 2012, even though the number of public sector unionists fell by 224,000 in a year.

Union density in the private sector declined to 6.6%, the survey said. The majority of union members — 7.328 million — were in the public sector.

Unions lost almost three times as many women (-288,000, to 6.47 million) as men (-111,000, to 7.895 million) in a year.

BLS analyst Jim Walker told Press Associates Union News Service the most definite thing that can be drawn from the numbers is the long-term trend of declining union density in the U.S.

Overall, Walker added, the decline in union density reflects the changing nature of the economy. He noted the survey that produces the union data also generates the monthly employment and jobless numbers. It has shown a consistent long-term shift away from construction and manufacturing to service jobs, many in less-union-dense industries, such as finance, insurance and real estate (1.9% unionized).

State-level and industry-level figures – such as Wisconsin’s 2.1% union density decline, where GOP Gov. Scott Walker banned collective bargaining for 200,000 state and local workers – are based on samples too small to reach definitive conclusions, Jim Walker added. The survey covers 60,000 households nationwide, in rolling groups, so the same households are not surveyed every month.

“I think the decline” in states like Wisconsin “might have more to do with construction projects being completed or factories closing down” than with specific political policies, BLS’ Walker said.

The survey does not ask if workers can to be unionized – independent contractors, for example, cannot – and it only covers a worker’s primary job. “So, for example, an office worker who in the evening plays the violin” in a local orchestra which is unionized “is not counted as a union member,” he said.

The survey reported the number of state and local government workers
nationwide – the targets of the Right Wingers – declined by 187,000 last year, to 6.372 million. Almost all was in local government, down 182,000, to 4.4 million.

BLS said 41.7% of local government workers were union members in 2012, down from 43.5% in 2011. Percentages were also high among teachers (35.4%), and protective service workers (34.8%). The most heavily unionized private sectors were utilities (24.7%) and telecommunications (15.6%).

One of every seven construction workers (13.2%) and one of every 11 factory workers (9.6%) were union members last year, though BLS’ Walker again cautioned against drawing specific conclusions from such small samples.

Union contracts covered another 1.6 million workers – half in the public sector and half in the private sector – who are not members. Right-to-work laws, such as Indiana’s, can drive that figure up.

In a prepared statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said “working women and men urgently need a voice on the job today, but the sad truth is it has become more difficult for them to have one,” as the data show.

“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,” he continued.

Then he pivoted to the positive, saying unions “understand these challenges offer real opportunities…to reshape the future.” He cited coalitions workers are building in communities, with young people and immigrants and in fights against Right Wingers. He also claimed workers are “organizing in innovative ways” to create “a new movement for the future and to creating good jobs and an economy that works for all.”

As in prior years, the union movement is concentrated in the Northeast, the Great Lakes States and the Pacific Coast. It’s still weak in the Southeast and Southwest. North Carolina stayed dead last in union density, at 2.9%, unchanged from the year before, though its union numbers rose by 7,000, to 112,000. New York, at 23.2%, was first again, but it’s down 0.9% and 65,000 members from the year before.

BLS calculated about half of all union members lived in seven states: California, (2.49 million), New York (1.841 million), Illinois (801,000), Pennsylvania, (734,000), Michigan (629,000), New Jersey (611,000), and Ohio, (604,000). Numbers and density declined in all those states except New Jersey, where density was unchanged.

There were two notable union increases in the union-weak areas, the BLS calculated: A 1.1% increase in Kentucky, to 10%, and a 65,000-person, 0.5% rise, to 5.7% density, in Texas. Texas is still among the least-unionized states.

Mark Gruenberg writes for Press Associates, Inc., news service. Used with permission.

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