BLS Report: Labor Unions Lost Nearly 10% of Members in 2010

Published February 21, 2011

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has issued its annual report on union membership in the United States, and it’s not good news for the unions.

Union membership fell by almost 10 percent in a single year, from 15,327,000 in 2009 to 14,715,000 in 2010, a loss of 612,000 members.

More than half of that decline was in the private sector, where union membership fell by 339,000, from 7.43 million in 2009 to 7.09 million in 2010. The decline in union membership was accompanied by a decline of 317,000 in employment on private payrolls.

Public Sector Losses
Unlike 2009, when public sector union membership increased despite a decline in government employment, in 2010 public sector union membership also declined, in this case by 273,000 members. There was a decline in public sector union density of 1.2 percentage points, from 37.4 percent in 2009 to 36.2 percent in 2010. In 2010, union membership on government payrolls remained above 50 percent of all union members, despite only about one in six jobs being in government.

Each segment of public employment demonstrated different characteristics in changes in employment, union membership, and union density in 2010.

Federal government employment increased by 76,000 while union membership declined by 21,000, moving union density in federal employment down from 28.0 percent to 26.8 percent, a decline of 1.2 percentage points.

At the state government level, employment increased by 34,000 while union membership declined by 56,000. As a consequence, union density dropped from 32.2 to 31.1, a decline of 1.1 percentage points.

Big Local Govt. Declines
The big changes in the public sector took place at the local government level, where employment declined by 209,000 and union membership declined by 197,000, resulting in a 1.0 percent decline in density.

Unions experienced their greatest percent declines in Michigan (-2.3), New Jersey (-2.2), Massachusetts (-2.1), Illinois (-2.0), and Hawaii (-1.7), all states with relatively high levels of unionism.

The states experiencing the greatest percent growth of union density were West Virginia (+.9), Idaho (+.8), Alaska (+.6), Kansas (+.6) and New Mexico (+.6), a mixed bag of states as far as union density is concerned.

These figures represent total changes in union density and don’t reflect a private sector/public sector breakdown. A state-by-state report on the rise and fall of public sector unionism will be published in the next edition of Budget & Tax News.

The BLS report is based on the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS consists of 60,000 interviews each month and is regarded as extremely accurate. When applied to a subgroup of the workforce such as the public sector or a low-population state, the results can vary widely from year to year.

David Denholm ([email protected]) is president of the Public Service Research Foundation, a not for profit research and education organization that studies labor unions and union influence on public policy.