Fresh data show that fewer Americans than ever belong to a union on the job, despite recent gains in membership and efforts by organizers to boost the rolls of union labor.

Last year, about 14.7 million hourly and salary workers belonged to unions, or 11.9% of the workforce, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday. In 2009, 12.3%, or about 612,000, more Americans were unionized, the agency noted.

The data further showed that for the second year in a row the number of unionized government employees, 7.6 million, outnumbered those in the private sector at 7.1 million, though both saw their numbers decline.

"It was a very tough year for unionized workers," John Schmitt, a senior economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research told The New York Times. "We're seeing declines in the private sector, and we're seeing declines in the public sector."

The union membership rate for public sector workers at 36.2% was substantially higher than the rate for private sector workers at 6.9%, the bureau said. In 2009, 7.2% of the private-sector workforce was unionized, while 37.4% of government workers were union members.

A Far Cry From the Historical Peaks

According to the bureau's data, New York had the highest unionization rate of any state, at 24.2%, followed by Alaska, at 22.9%, and Hawaii, at 21.8%. North Carolina had the lowest rate, at 3.2%, with Arkansas and Georgia tied for second-lowest at 4%.

The percentage of union workers is a far cry from the nearly 18% union membership rate recorded in 1983, the first year for which comparable data are available, the bureau said. Americans' participation in unions peaked in the 1950s, when about 35% of all workers were union members, driven by a surge in organizing activity amid the Great Depression and following World War II, according to the Times.

Given the nation's housing slump, it's not surprising that the construction sector saw the largest drop in employment and thus in union members, falling to 13.1% in 2010, down from 14.5% in 2009, but manufacturing and teaching also saw losses.

The losses in the ranks of government workers came as local and state governments, facing lean budgets, cut thousands of jobs. And the layoffs are likely to continue. Newly elected New York Gov. Mario Cuomo is expected to soon announce plans to eliminate 15,000 jobs from the government payroll, as the state struggles to close a $9 billion budget gap.

Factors Beyond the Recession

Despite the dreary tenor of the report, the bureau's data showed that union workers fared better than their nonunion counterparts in one key area: earnings power. At an average $917 a week, union workers earned $200 more in wages than those not in unions.

The drop in the number of union workers in 2009 and 2010 followed two years of gains, thanks to increases in employment and successful organizing campaigns, the Times noted.

Though the recent recession has played a role in reducing unionized labor, many other factors have contributed to the recent decline, including an increasingly global workforce and growing resistance among corporations to accept organizing drives.

Though companies with unionized workforces often have more productive workforces, the cost of doing business is typically higher than that of their nonunion competition, Georgia State University labor economist Barry T. Hirsch told the newspaper. Hirsch noted that "in an increasingly globalized, very fast-moving world, unionized companies may not be able to adjust as quickly."

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Pettit Family

hsmachine obviously doesn't have union security or that comment would not be made.
By the way, I can't remember the last time I've heard of a stike, come on! What about retirement and benefits? Bet you would like some.

January 25 2011 at 7:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Pettit Family

LOVE LOVE LOVE my UNION job!!!! Union is the ONLY way to go~
At least labor gets a small sliver of the pie....
My favorites are the franchise restaurants that charge 20 bucks a plate and then have you pay for the servers salary with a 20 percent included gratuity.
Yet business is booming~so how come nobody complains about that?
100 percent corporate profit. hmmm????

January 25 2011 at 7:08 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I am union, I agree with some post and disagree with others, do I make more money than other people in my area that do my job?yes about 3 dollars more an hour, does that break a company? no. unions aint the blame for the countries woes. having foreign countries pay workers 50 cent an hour with no benefits shipping cheap products here is. you will never compete with india, china mexico, union or no union.what sends jobs overseas is consumers that buy the cheapest, desire the cheapest and companies are required to provide. do you now how the largest retailer operates? they go to a companies wanting a product at said price, they tell the companies to sell them a widget a 50 cents, they say it cost 60 cents to produce, the big retailer says find a way! they do by out sourceing to china, mexico, taiwan, india, pakistan etc,etc, to get the cheapest sweatshop product available, if you people on this board had any sense you would realize that fact.go to Wall mart all you want, you are making the shareholders rich, destoying the u.s labor market, and promoting sweatshop and slave labor. the people that disagree with my post just dont realize the truth or really comprehend reality. Nuff Said!

January 25 2011 at 6:51 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Labor unions in the private sector are the cause of the jobs being shipped overseas.The labor unions in the public sector are why state goverments are going broke.The unions were formed to protect the worker against unfair work condtions now they hold the employers hostage with strikes and or work stopages.Time the unions to go...

January 25 2011 at 6:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Very soon we may just all be self employed!
Obama care may dictate the actions of companys in the future
and instead of having employees they will hire subcontractors to avoid having to pay your health care or any other mandates the government places on employers.
This really puts the unions in a no win position.Who in the world would organize against themselfs?

January 25 2011 at 6:05 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply

Why haven't the rank and file rebelled aganinst their union bosses when it comes to spending 100s of millions of their "union dues" dollars on promoting political figures who actually don't really help them in their causes. I would think I would like to see most of this spending go into my pocket in the way of benefits. You realize since the beginning of the big unions decline both political parties have had the majority of power at some time or another, what has either done for you. Too many people don't realize that we are finally (good or bad) reaching the point of a world economy. What we produced 60-70-80 years ago is now being produced elsewhere, the rest of the world don't need us so much anymore. No politician is going to reverse that fact. Most of the rest of the industrial countries except lower wages because their people enjoy a cradle to grave government system. Plus, most of the people over there understand living with in your means means they don't drive hummers, they don't buy a $500,000.00 house when they can only afford a $200,000.00 house. Over here Americans think it's important to impress the neighbors at any cost. Rank and file wake up and demand that your union boss's explain how your dues are being spent and why. I worked in a union enviroment back when I was a young guy and I felt it subdued and held me back. All I saw was a distrusting attitude from the owners of the company and the unions. It seems to be even worse today. I have nothing against local unions because the local enviroment will keep them in check. Big unions need to go..

January 25 2011 at 6:01 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Boy you people sure have some narrow views of Unions. Frankly if you are a union construction worker. You produce. You know why we are paid more? Because were well trained and do the job right every time. Our job is dangerous , its hard work and its technical. If you want something built fast and built right the first time. Employ union. If you want the next decade of your life to be plagued by chasing down contractors to come repair what they didnt know how to do right the first time.. call a non union contractor.
Trust me in the long run hireing union workers will save you money.

January 25 2011 at 6:01 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jhngm's comment

I am a Special Ed teacher, and I think this is a plant. Every mistake in the above text seems to be one made by an educated person trying to write as if he has poor skills. Perhaps the thought process is that another person reading this would think the writer is dumb. Maybe the writer is someone anti union???? Just saying!

January 25 2011 at 6:20 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

There really isn't any mystery in the decline of Union Members. To begin, Industries lay off their high paid union workers first. Non union companies can afford to continue operation because of lower over head, union shops can't compete. Once companies bound by union contracts shed these high cost jobs, they start out sourcing the work, so there is little or no reason to call back those high paid workers. It has always amused me that Union Members will scream bloody murder when a company looks for the cheapest way to get the job done, yet those same union workers will shop for the cheapest products for their homes, union made or not.

January 25 2011 at 5:58 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I'm an unemployed Union worker. The main reason they don't like me and practice nepotism. To think I helped and supported the Union long enough and they took my money and dignity. I lost my full time job with full benefits thanks to Labor Unions. Everyone's relative and friends went first. Can't wait for them to collapse. They ruined my life. No full time employee should be allowed to bully, lie, cheat, and steal and get away with it. The Unions protect those that do unless they don't like you. On my knees praying for their collapse.

January 25 2011 at 5:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to helaine735's comment

I dont know what union you work for, but I can tell you that if you want to work in my trade in my local, you have to be productive. You can either produce more then the rest of the guys or spend half the year waiting for your unemployment to come in. I imagine its much the same in every union and every job for that mater. The ones who make there company the most money without causeing any issues for them are the ones who will stay employed.

January 25 2011 at 6:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

tahoeroby the United States is still the worlds largest manufacture did you know that? we are also the largest economy did you know that? It is America doing what we do best and that is to prop up these 3rd world countries.We educate them at our universities we show them the technology to manufacture. Have you ever wondered what say China has really invented or how they have innovated,they haven't.They just copy products that are invented here and usually use cheaper products [example their drywall,their paint, how about their steel we import junk. And they also do not pay a living wage 1.00 a day is not a living wage. And with their growth economically will come the rise of the peasants mark my word. Our economy goes down a little theirs goes up a little and wha la you have equality.And isn't that what everyone is looking for equality. Our politicians say shouldn't the mexicans make more money NAFTA we feel the columbians are being treated unfairly in coffee fields, the chinese are so oppressed by the communist we will send aid to china we still do to this day by the way. And we will also send our corporations over to help with your emergence into the global maeket place.All the while our multinational corporations use slave labor to produce their goods..Those good should be taxed to death before entry into this country.And those same multinational corporations should be taxed at a rate that will entice them to make their products back here in the states.Do not mind multinationals chasing slave labor [they ought to be embarrassed but have no shame in treating people like slaves] but when they do they must pay the price to sell in their own home country.They can chas their slave labor but must pay so we can start up new corporations who have the their product and the american dream as part of their corporate plan. you must pay to play

January 25 2011 at 5:24 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply