Jan 23, 12:17 PM EST
By SAM HANANEL
WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation’s labor unions suffered sharp declines in membership last year, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said Wednesday, led by losses in the public sector as cash-strapped state and local governments laid off workers and – in some cases – limited collective bargaining rights.
The union membership rate fell from 11.8 percent to 11.3 percent of all workers, the lowest level since the 1930s.
Total membership fell by about 400,000 workers to 14.4 million. More than half the loss – about 234,000 – came from government workers including teachers, firefighters and public administrators.
The losses add another blow to a labor movement already stretched thin by fighting efforts in states like Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan to curb bargaining rights and weaken union clout.
But unions also saw losses in the private sector, even as the economy expanded modestly. That rate fell of membership fell from 6.9 percent to 6.6 percent, a troubling sign for the future of organized labor, as job growth has generally taken place at nonunion firms.
“To employers, it’s going to look like the labor movement is ready for a knockout punch,” said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. “You can’t be a movement and get smaller.”
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