In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., David Macpherson, E.M. Stevens professor and economics department chair at Trinity University, outlined some causal factors behind the trend. “The decline in unions has really been driven by the decline in the private sector (membership),” Macpherson said. This is largely because in the “public sector, you don’t have to worry about being driven out of business because of higher labor costs — and in the private sector, you do,” Macpherson explained.
Nationwide, there were over half a million fewer union workers in the private sector in 2016 compared to 2006, a 6.8% decline. In nine of the 15 cities on this list, the decline in the number of unionized private sector workers was larger than in the decline in the number of unionized public sector workers.
Many of the metro areas on this list have reported employment declines in industries that traditionally are more likely to have unionized workers. Industries such as public administration, transportation warehousing and utilities and construction have higher than typical union participation. Though manufacturing is not as unionized as it once was, it still has higher union participation than most industries.
In nine of the 15 metro areas on this list, the workforce in either public administration, or transportation, warehousing and utilities, or both shrank over the last decade. Also in nine of the 15 metro areas on this list, either construction or manufacturing shed more jobs between 2006 and 2016 than any other industry.
In addition to changing industrial landscape, changing laws also play a role in declining union membership. For example, so-called right-to-work laws, which promote the right to choose whether or not to join or financially support a union, have enjoyed growing support in recent years. The movement is encroaching on former union strongholds such as coal-rich West Virginia and the Rust Belt, with Michigan and Wisconsin enacting right-to-work laws within the last four years.
Of the 15 metro areas on this list, 10 are in right-to-work states. Not counting Bowling Green, Kentucky, which became a right-to-work state in 2017, states of six metro areas on this list have become right-to-work within the last 10 years — the same time frame the metros reported heavy declines in unionization.
Based on figures published by Unionstats.com, an online union membership and coverage database, 24/7 Wall St. identified the metropolitan areas with the largest declines in union membership as a percentage of the total workforce. The database, which analyzes the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey, provides labor force and union membership figures in both the public and private sectors, including manufacturing and construction. Additionally, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed income, poverty, and industry employment data from the 2015 American Community Survey, produced by the U.S. Census Bureau.