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Latest News - January 2013

January 23, 2013
Union membership falls to 70-year low
By: David Shepardson

The nation's unions lost 400,000 members in 2012 as the percentage of U.S. workers represented by a labor union fell to 11.3 percent, its lowest level since the 1930s - declining by 0.5 percent over the last year.

Michigan accounted for about 10 percent of the nation's loss of unionized workers as the Wolverine State fell to the seventh most-unionized state, from fifth in 2011.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the biggest hit was in public sector unions, where many states and cities have cut back on their unionized workforce.

Among public sector workers, 35.9 percent are in a union - down from 37.0 percent in 2011, as the public sector shed nearly 250,000 union workers.

The public sector union rate is more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers. In the private sector, 6.6 percent are unionized, down from 6.9 percent in 2011.

Union membership fell in 34 states.

In Michigan, union membership fell more sharply than the national average; It was down to 16.6 percent in 2012, compared with 17.5 percent in 2011. Michigan lost 42,000 union workers, falling to 629,000 in 2012.

The number of workers in Michigan represented by a union — but who were not members of that union — fell from 18.3 percent to 17.1 percent, or by 55,000 workers. By contrast, in 1970 Michigan had 1.2 million union workers representing 40 percent of the state's workforce.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the new figures were sobering.

"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," Trumka said. "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."

Trumka said "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."

Teamsters President James P. Hoffa, who heads the 1.4 million member union, said unions still have a future.

"It was collective bargaining that helped bring back the auto industry. It was unions that led the effort on the ground to re-elect President Obama. The labor movement has had its ups and downs over the past 150 years, but I'm seeing a new energy in our union," he said. "Low-wage workers in the retail, restaurant and fast-food industries are using exciting new tactics to organize…. Working people realize now more than ever that they need to form unions to protect their families and their communities from powerful corporations. From my perspective, labor is on the way back in a powerful way."

Last month, the state legislature approved right-to-work legislation that was signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder. It takes effect in late March and will allow nearly all union members to opt out of paying union dues when new contracts are ratified.

The measure was bitterly opposed by unions that had spent millions on a failed ballot initiative to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the constitution. Michigan labor leaders have denounced many actions taken by Snyder and the Republican legislature as anti-union.

Unions note that unionized employees make more on average than non-union employees.

In 2012, union members had median weekly earnings of $943, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $742.

Union membership is down sharply from 1983, when 20 percent of all Americans belonged to a union, and is one-third of its height in 1953, when 32.5 percent of all workers were in a union.

Nationally, labor unions unsuccessfully fought in the first year of the Obama administration to win approval of legislation called the "Employee Free Choice Act" that would make it easier to organize new members.

Nationally, U.S. unions combined added about 50,000 members in 2011, reaching the 14.8 million mark after losing about 1.4 million since 2009. But nationwide membership, at 11.8 percent, was at its lowest percentage in more than 70 years, during the Great Depression.



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