New York (MainStreet) – Membership in labor unions declined significantly in 2010, according to a new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The total number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 612,000 in 2010, to 14.7 million. That represents a total unionization rate of 11.9% in 2010, down from 12.3% in 2009.
Back in 1983, the first year for which comparable union data were available, the union membership rate was 20.1% and there were 17.7 million workers in unions.
Last year’s drop in membership is most likely tied to the overall high unemployment rate and a significant number of layoffs in certain sectors. Membership in the private sector, for instance, dropped from 7.2% to 6.9%, with the biggest decline experienced in the construction industry.
Public employment unions saw a 1.2% decline, mostly from job cuts in state and local governments. However, the 36.2% union membership rate for public sector workers was still substantially higher overall than the rate for private sector workers.
Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate at 42.3%. This group includes teachers, police officers and fire fighters.
As different sectors saw varying rates of unionization, so did different regions: 31 states as well as the District of Columbia had union membership rates below the U.S. average last year. Cities in the Middle Atlantic and Pacific sections of the country reported rates higher than the national average, while cities in central Southern areas had below-average rates.
North Carolina had the lowest rate at 3.2%. The next lowest were Arkansas (4%), Georgia (4%), Louisiana (4.3%), Mississippi (4.5%), South Carolina (4.6%), Virginia (4.6%) and Tennessee (4.7%).
Comparatively, New York recorded the highest membership rate at 24.2%, followed by Alaska (22.9%), Hawaii (21.8%), Washington (19.4%), California (17.5%) and New Jersey (17.1%).
One bright spot for union workers captured by the report is that they still make more than non-union members: Workers in unions had median weekly earnings of $917 in 2010, while those who were not represented by unions had median weekly earnings of $717.