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Unionization rates fell to 11.3 percent in 2012

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins

The Bureau of Labor Statics has put out its annual update of how many American workers belong to a labor union today and once again the data shows a decline. Last year, it had a particularly sharp drop, going from 11.8 percent in 2011 to just 11.3 percent last year. The rate was 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year the BLS started compiling this data.

The number of private sector workers who belong to unions fell to just 6.6 percent, down from 6.9 percent in 2011. The number of public sectors who belong to a union fell to 35.9 percent, down from 37 percent the prior year. The latter number is striking because it represents a sharp contraction on unions jobs at the state and local government level. The number of those unionized workers fell from 43.2 percent in 2011 to 41.7 percent in 2012.

To put this in perspective, the overall unionization rate was 12.4 percent in 2008 when President Obama was elected, with the private sector at 7.6 percent and the public sector at 36.8 percent. Despite the auto industry bailout, the massive spending on green energy projects — which were supposed to create jobs in unionized industries — and Obama’s other efforts on behalf of his union allies, the long-term decline in union membership shows no sign of stopping.

While Big Labor is smaller, it is important to note that this is still relative to the larger economy. BLS notes that that 11.8 percent unionization rate means that 14.4 million people still belong to unions. That’s still a hefty number, though down from 17.7 million in 1983.

In a statement emailed to reporters, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the following:

Working women and men urgently need a voice on the job today, but the sad truth is that it has become more difficult for them to have one, as today’s figures on union membership demonstrate.

Union membership impacts every other economic outcome that matters to all workers – falling wages, rising health care costs, home foreclosures, the loss of manufacturing jobs and disappearing retirement benefits. Collective action through unions remains the single best way for working people to effect change. But 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.

Richard Berman, executive director of the business-backed Center for Union Facts, said in a statement: “The continued decline of union membership, even during four years of a labor-friendly administration, is a sign that organized labor is no longer serving the best interests of its members.”

For some perspective on why the rate has declined read Washington Examiner Diana Furchtgott-Roth’s column today.

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