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Union woes continue as membership shrank again in 2012

The number of American workers who belong to a union fell yet again last year, as both government workers and those in private industry saw their ranks shrink.

About 11.3 percent of the workforce, or 14.4 million workers, belonged to a union in 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday. That’s down from 11.8 percent of the workforce, or 14.8 million workers, in 2011.

The American union labor movement has struggled for years with declining membership and increasing attacks from those who oppose organized labor. In December, Michigan – once considered a stronghold of American union power - became the 24th state to approve right-to-work legislation. That type of legislation makes it harder for unions to maintain power because union-covered members are no longer required to pay dues.

Many experts say the move in Michigan could embolden more states to pass similar legislation, further threatening the nation’s once-strong labor union movement.

The data released Wednesday also reinforced the changing face of the American labor movement. While most Americans think of union members as manufacturing workers wearing hard hats, these days union membership is actually more common among public-sector workers such as teachers, firefighters and police officers.

Still, both sectors saw their union membership ranks shrink last year.

About 7.3 million public-sector workers belonged to a union in 2012, the BLS reported, down from about 7.6 million in 2011.

About 7.0 million private-sector workers belonged to a union in 2011, down from 7.2 million a year earlier.


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