Labor union membership at all-time low; more states pass right-to-work laws

The number of American workers enrolled in a trades union has dropped to an all-time low according to a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) study released Thursday.

As reported by the BLS, 10.7 percent of American workers remained unionized at the end of 2016, a drop of 0.4 percent from one year earlier and a whopping 9.4 percent drop from 1983 when the Bureau began collecting data tracking union membership.

The decline reported Thursday indicates there are 240,000 fewer unionized laborers over the last 12 months.

In 1983, union membership stood at 17.7 million members; today it stands at 14.6 million. 

Data collected by the Bureau through a monthly Current Population Survey revealed union membership among public-sector workers remain as much as five times higher than their private-sector counterparts.

Similarly, the sectors in which unionized workers remain strongest are education, training and library careers. Men have a slightly higher rate of membership than women in the ranks of organized labor, 11.2 percent to 10.2 percent.

BLS data also disclosed more black employees are affiliated with unions than white, Asian or Hispanic workers overall.

The BLS report further uncovered non-unionized workers’ weekly income persisted at 80 percent of unionized workers and while New York remained a bastion of union strength with 23.6 percent of labor retaining union affiliation, South Carolina’s unionized workforce accounted for a mere 1.6 percent of its total laborers.

Describing the current climate for unions, Joseph McCartin, director of the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University, said:

“These numbers bear out a trend that’s been underway for some years, and it puts into starker relief the urgency of the moment for labor, now that the Trump administration is in power.” 

McMartin continued to explain outdated labor law, often 80 years old, is one explanation for the decline of union membership; however, he also described a changing economy presenting challenges to labor from organizing.

Highlighting state and local legislation targeting labor unions, which has turned once strong union states into right-to-work states, McMartin said:

“There’s a pretty unified hostility to public sector unionism by Republicans nationally and in many states.”

West Virginia and Kentucky are the most recent states to enact right-to-work laws banning union membership requirements and are set to go into effect in February and January 2017, respectively.

On Wednesday, the Missouri state Senate passed a right-to-work bill after the state House advanced similar legislation last week.


[CNBC] [The Hill] [AP via Fox 2 News-St. Louis] [Photo courtesy Getty Images via CBS News]