January 28, 2005
Membership in Unions Drops Again
The percentage of Americans belonging to labor unions fell last year to the lowest level in more than six decades, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced yesterday.
The segment of all workers in unions dropped to 12.5 percent last year from 12.9 percent in 2003, the bureau said, while the percentage of private-sector workers in unions fell to 7.9 percent from 8.2 percent, making it the lowest level since the early 1900's.
The numbers were reported as organized labor debates how to reverse its steady decline, from its peak in the 1950's when it represented 35 percent of all workers.
The report showed that the public sector remained a labor stronghold, with 36.4 percent of government workers unionized, more than four times the rate in the private sector. But even that was a decline from 37.2 percent the year before, and labor suffered a further setback this month when the new Republican governors of Indiana and Missouri ordered an end to collective bargaining rights for state employees.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the number of union members fell last year to 15.5 million, down 300,000 from 2003.
Labor relations experts said a reason for the decline was the loss of jobs in manufacturing, which was traditionally labor's greatest stronghold. The nation has lost three million factory jobs over the past four and a half years. While the number of manufacturing jobs actually climbed slightly last year, labor leaders said, unionized factories continued to be hit hard.
"The numbers illustrate the convergence of two painful trends for America's working families," Sarah Massey, a spokeswoman for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said. "The climate for workers who want to organize unions to better their economic situation is increasingly antagonistic, and good jobs are still disappearing."
Julius Getman, a labor relations expert at the University of Texas, said: "A remarkable fact is the percentage of workers in unions is so much lower than the percentage of workers who say in polls that they want to be in unions. It's around 50 percent." He attributed labor's decline to lackluster recruitment and employer opposition to unionizing.
New York had the highest percentage of workers in unions, 25.3 percent, and North Carolina has the lowest percentage - 2.7 percent.