Union membership at lowest point since 1930s

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Business groups have long complained that the Obama administration is “labor-friendly,” but union membership actually has declined over the last four years to its lowest point since the 1930s.

The number of union workers fell by nearly 400,000 in 2012 compared to 2011, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics released Wednesday.

The number of Americans represented by a union dropped from 14.8 to 14.4 million Americans during that same period. Currently, 11.3 percent of all U.S. workers belong to a union.

That amounts to “a significant number of workers,” said Bureau of Labor Statistics economist Jim Walker.

It’s been a downhill battle for the labor community. Union membership has fallen by 3.3 million workers over the last three decades, even as more employees join the workforce, and about half of those losses have come under the Obama administration.

Richard Berman, executive director of the Center for Union Facts, suggested this report raises “serious questions about the health of the labor movement in America.”

“The continued decline of union membership, even during four years of a labor-friendly administration, is a sign that organized labor is no longer serving the best interests of its members,” he said.

But AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka blamed “right-wing politicians” for their “political as well as ideological assaults that have taken a toll on union membership.”

“Working women and men urgently need a voice on the job today,” he said in a statement, “but the sad truth is that it has become more difficult for them to have one.”

This decline comes as the labor community has been losing the right-to-work battle. Twenty-four states have laws that allow employees to opt out of union membership.

In 2012, Michigan and Indiana became the most recent states to pass such laws, and many more are considering similar legislation.

“The right-to-work movement is growing,” said Fred Wszolek, spokesman for the Workforce Fairness Institute. “There are more and more states that are making union membership optional, so of course their membership is going to fall. They’re definitely losing the battle, but they’re not giving up.”

Mr. Berman agreed that unions are weakening.

“I think they’re becoming irrelevant,” Mr. Berman said. “There will always be a union movement, because there will always be a business that treats its workers so badly they collectively organize to form a union. But I do believe it’s becoming less and less of a need for the workforce.”

In the labor community, public-sector workers have a 35.9 percent union membership rate, compared to the 6.6 percent of private-sector workers who unionize.

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