Unions Continue to Hemorrhage Members

50 percent drop in last 30 years

SEIU members and supporters cheer during a rally / AP
January 26, 2017

Union membership fell once again, as fewer private sector workers join labor organizations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The union membership rate fell below 11 percent nationwide in 2016, a drop of nearly half a percentage point from 2015. Unions lost 240,000 members last year leaving 14.6 million workers belonging to labor organizations. That is nearly a 50 percent decline from the membership rate in 1983 when the BLS began officially tracking the data.

The stark decline in labor union membership was felt most acutely in the private sector. Just 6.4 percent of non-government employees pay union dues or fees, a 30 percent drop from 2000.

Public sector unions have also lost members in recent years. 34.4 percent of government employees belong to influential bargaining units such as the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. While substantially higher than the private sector membership rate that is an 8 percent drop from 2000 levels when 37.5 percent of government employees were union members.

Union watchdogs celebrated the drop. Richard Berman, executive director of the Center for Union Facts, said that sagging membership is demonstrative of the inability of unions to capitalize on the labor-friendly policies of the Obama administration.

"The sad state of private-sector union membership reveals that union bosses are historical artifacts in 21st century workplaces," Berman said in a release. "Despite spending millions of dollars on campaigns like '$15 and a Union' while receiving unprecedented help from the pro-union Obama administration, Big Labor is seeing only dark days ahead. Employees nationwide are rejecting the union agenda and the left-wing politics that come with it."

Unions could be dealt further blows in 2017, as right to work legislation advanced in three states that had previously seen such legislation blocked by Democratic lawmakers or vetoed by Democratic governors. Twenty-six states barred making union membership a prerequisite for employment at the end of the Obama presidency.

Kentucky became the 27th on Jan. 8. By President Donald Trump's inauguration, the legislation had also passed by the Missouri House of Representatives and the New Hampshire state Senate. On Thursday, the Missouri Senate adopted the legislation. Newly elected GOP Gov. Eric Greitens campaigned on right to work and has pledged to sign the legislation, which his Democratic predecessor had vetoed in the past.

Republicans have a sizable majority in the New Hampshire House of Representatives. Newly elected Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has also pledged to sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Published under: Unions