Government Layoffs a Blow to Union Membership

State and local government layoffs last year drove a historic decline in union membership.

Two hundred and thirty-four thousand union jobs -- half of the 400,000 union jobs lost last year -- came from laying off government workers:  teachers, firefighters, civil servants.

While the 1.8 million new jobs the private sector added in 2012 were non-union, organized labor was hardest hit by the loss of public sector jobs.

The public sector is one of the few areas where union membership had grown over the last 20 years.  About half of all union workers work for the government, where the rate of union membership is 37%, more than five times higher than in the private sector.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin struck a body blow to public sector unions in 2011 by signing a law stripping state workers of most of their collective bargaining rights. Of the 46,000 union jobs Wisconsin lost in 2012, most were in the public sector.

The right has targeted unions because, even now, they remain a potent political force. Unions spent more than $400 million during the 2012 election cycle to support President Barack Obama's re-election, keep a Democratic majority in the Senate and aid progressive candidates in state and local elections.

Unions fear that Republican governors in Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will be the next to "Walker" public unions.

The 2008 recession occasioned deeper cuts to state and local government than any previous recession.  Since August, 2008, 135,000 state government jobs and 546,000 local government jobs have been lost.

Unionized public school teachers have been among the hardest hit, with 123,000 union jobs being lost in education last year.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka credits the struggling economy, weak labor laws and sustained ideological and political assaults on organized labor for wiping out union jobs.

When Indiana's new "right-to-work" law -- making it illegal for unions to collect dues -- took effect last March, about 56,000 union jobs were eliminated.

In December, Michigan passed a "right-to-work" law.

The highest percentage of union members in the U.S. live in New York State, with membership increasingly concentrated among older workers.

In 2012, full-time salaried union members had median weekly earnings of $943, compared to non-union wages of $742.

The article from the AP.

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