The new annual data on union membership must be particularly depressing for labor leaders in states that have traditionally been their strongholds. New BLS data show that national union membership dropped to 11.3% of all workers in the United States from 11.8% in 2011. The 11.3% represents the lowest figure in almost a century.
Union membership as a percentage of the workforce in Michigan fell to 16.6% from 17.5%. Auto companies have had high union membership for years. Now, even California has a higher number at 17.2%. The Chapter 11 filings by General Motors Co. (NYSE: GM) and Chrysler have harmed organized labor. Now that car company managements have gained an edge, they will not give it up.
Other states that were centers of organized workers due to manufacturing showed similar slips. In Illinois, the number declined from 16.2% to 14.6%. In Ohio, the drop was from 13.4% to 12.6%.
Union membership has remained relatively high in places where either one very large industry employees laborers or government is a large enough portion of the overall economy so that labor unions that represent government workers have impressively high numbers of members.
Despite efforts by Governor Cuomo in New York, union membership remains very high at 23.2%, slightly down from 24.1% in 2011. Public employees are well-organized in New York. In the state of Washington, the figure actually rose from 18.5% in 2011 to 19.0%.
Finally, the BLS data once again reinforce the fact that in some portions of the nation, unions are long deceased, or never took root at all. In South Carolina, union membership was 3.4% last year, and in Virginia 4.6%. In Georgia, the figure is 3.9%. In the Plains States, there are no unions to speak of at all — membership is well below 10% in Montana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska and Idaho.
Unions are not dead. However, between states that never were heavily unionized and those where public and private labor forces are organized in fewer and fewer cases, the places where unions can hang on has dropped precipitously.