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U.S. union membership rate declined in 2014

By   /   January 26, 2015  /   News  /   No Comments

By Jason Hart | Watchdog.org

The percentage of American workers in labor unions dropped slightly in 2014, even though the number of union members increased.

Just 11.1 percent of America’s wage and salary workers were members of unions last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in a Friday release. In 2013, 11.3 percent of workers were union members.

Total union membership grew in 2014 to 14,577,000, but the increase of 49,000 union members was not enough to match the nation’s overall job creation rate.

Union bosses’ role in private industry in the United States has been declining for years, a trend union coalition AFL-CIO and its political allies hope to turn around with help from President Obama’s appointees on the National Labor Relations Board and from Thomas Perez, head of Obama’s staunchly pro-union Department of Labor.

“In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers,” BLS noted Friday.

According to BLS, public-sector workers had a union membership rate “more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers” in 2014. Less than 7 percent of America’s private-sector workers and more than 35 percent of government workers were members of unions.

Almost half of America’s union members are public-sector workers whose unions exist for the express purpose of increasing the cost of government. Millions of government workers belong to National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of Teachers or American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, the four largest unions in the country.

Even with government unions large and growing, the rate of union membership in America has continued its decline.

Photo: Mackinac Center

VERNUCCIO: F. Vincent Vernuccio is director of labor policy at the Michigan-based Mackinac Center

“The anemic growth of union membership shows organized labor needs to change its business model to expand and thrive in the 21st century workforce,” F. Vincent Vernuccio, director of labor policy at the free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy, told Watchdog.org via email.

“Workers deserve modern unions which serve them as individuals and not as parts of a once size fits all contract,” Vernuccio continued. “Unions need to be more responsive and put the individual worker at the center of the labor movement.”

“They must become more like modern and voluntary professional associations, rather than the industrial-era unions of old,” he added, noting his research on the issue is detailed in Mackinac’s recent Unionization for the 21st Century study.

Michigan, which in 2012 passed right-to-work legislation supported by Mackinac, was one of several states where union membership dropped considerably in 2014. Right-to-work laws give workers the freedom to opt out of union membership without being forced to pay union “fair share” fees.

“For many workers in Michigan 2014 was the first time they had the choice to not support a union and still keep their job,” Vernuccio told Watchdog.org. “Right-to-work was likely one of several factors that lead to unions losing 48,000 members in the Wolverine state.”

He noted, however, that Indiana added 50,000 new union members, despite being a right-to-work state.

“This shows that union membership can grow in right-to-work states but those unions cannot take their members for granted as they can do in forced unionism states,” Vernuccio said.

Although union membership rates remained highest in forced-unionization states where unions can take mandatory dues, union membership grew in more than half of all right-to-work states in 2014.

Compared to 2013, union membership increased in 13 of 24 right-to-work states and 12 of 26 forced-unionism states. Union membership declined in nine right-to-work states and 12 forced-unionism states.

Unions lost 48,000 members in Michigan and 41,000 in North Carolina, both right-to-work states — but unions also lost 55,000 members in Washington, which is a forced-unionism state.

In addition to gaining 50,000 members in right-to-work Indiana, unions gained 50,000 members in forced-unionism Colorado, 42,000 in forced-unionism California, and 41,000 in right-to-work Florida.

The most heavily unionized states in 2014 were New York at 24.6 percent union membership among all workers, Alaska at 22.8 percent and Hawaii at 21.8 percent. The 10 states with the highest union membership rates were all forced-unionization states.

North Carolina had the lowest rate of union membership at 1.9 percent, followed by South Carolina at 2.2 percent and Mississippi and Utah, both at 3.7 percent. The 15 states with the lowest union membership rates were all right-to-work states.

Union membership figures reported by BLS for 2014 for each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia are listed below. Right-to-work states are listed in bold.

State Union members, 2014 Change in union membership, 2013-2014 Union membership rate, 2014 Change in union membership rate, 2013-2014
Alabama 204,000 1,000 10.8% 0.1%
Alaska 70,000 -1,000 22.8% -0.3%
Arizona 138,000 16,000 5.3% 0.3%
Arkansas 52,000 14,000 4.7% 1.2%
California 2,472,000 42,000 16.3% -0.1%
Colorado 221,000 50,000 9.5% 1.9%
Connecticut 231,000 24,000 14.8% 1.3%
Delaware 38,000 0 9.9% -0.4%
District of Columbia 28,000 -1,000 8.6% -0.7%
Florida 455,000 41,000 5.7% 0.3%
Georgia 170,000 -39,000 4.3% -1.0%
Hawaii 124,000 3,000 21.8% -0.3%
Idaho 34,000 5,000 5.3% 0.6%
Illinois 831,000 -20,000 15.1% -0.7%
Indiana 299,000 50,000 10.7% 1.4%
Iowa 156,000 13,000 10.7% 0.6%
Kansas 95,000 1,000 7.4% -0.1%
Kentucky 189,000 -5,000 11.0% -0.2%
Louisiana 96,000 21,000 5.2% 0.9%
Maine 62,000 -2,000 11.0% -0.1%
Maryland 310,000 2,000 11.9% 0.3%
Massachusetts 415,000 14,000 13.7% 0.0%
Michigan 585,000 -48,000 14.5% -1.8%
Minnesota 360,000 -2,000 14.2% -0.1%
Mississippi 38,000 0 3.7% 0.0%
Missouri 214,000 -5,000 8.4% -0.2%
Montana 52,000 0 12.7% -0.3%
Nebraska 64,000 1,000 7.3% 0.0%
Nevada 169,000 0 14.4% -0.2%
New Hampshire 62,000 2,000 9.9% 0.3%
New Jersey 635,000 24,000 16.5% 0.5%
New Mexico 43,000 -3,000 5.7% -0.5%
New York 1,980,000 -6,000 24.6% 0.2%
North Carolina 76,000 -41,000 1.9% -1.1%
North Dakota 18,000 -4,000 5.0% -1.4%
Ohio 615,000 10,000 12.4% -0.2%
Oklahoma 89,000 -25,000 6.0% -1.5%
Oregon 243,000 35,000 15.6% 1.7%
Pennsylvania 703,000 2,000 12.7% 0.0%
Rhode Island 68,000 -9,000 15.1% -1.8%
South Carolina 41,000 -28,000 2.2% -1.5%
South Dakota 18,000 1,000 4.9% 0.1%
Tennessee 127,000 -28,000 5.0% -1.1%
Texas 543,000 25,000 4.8% 0.0%
Utah 46,000 -3,000 3.7% -0.2%
Vermont 32,000 1,000 11.1% 0.2%
Virginia 179,000 -1,000 4.9% -0.1%
Washington 491,000 -55,000 16.8% -2.1%
West Virginia 73,000 -14,000 10.6% -2.1%
Wisconsin 306,000 -11,000 11.7% -0.6%
Wyoming 17,000 2,000 6.7% 1.0%

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Jason was formerly a reporter for Watchdog.org