The most recent numbers are in, and they are not pretty for organized labor in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently released its annual survey of union membership. The survey revealed not only a decline in the number of union members, but yet another decline in the percentage of the work force that is organized.

Here are some interesting data points from the survey:

  • Only 11.9% of American employees are in a labor union, down from 12.3% last year.
  • Unions lost 612,000 members in 2010, bringing total union membership to 14.7 million.
  • The percentage of private sector employees who are union members fell to 6.9%, down from 7.3% last year.
  • Unions lost 339,000 members in the private sector.
  • Unions representing employees in government even took a hit, losing over 270,000 members and bringing the percentage of public sector employees who are union members down to 36.2%
  • Private industry sectors that lost union members (and numbers lost): manufacturing (52,000); retail (83,000); construction (157,000); and health care and social assistance (70,000).
  • Private industry sectors that gained union members (and numbers gained): utilities (20,000); radio and television broadcasting and cable subscription programming (4,000); insurance (3,000); and real estate and rental and leasing (20,000).
  • State with highest unionization rate was New York (24.2%); state with the lowest unionization rate was North Carolina (3.2%). Ohio came in at 13.7%,

While this information is certainly interesting, for the labor professional it suggests a hidden danger. With declining membership numbers, and with the squeeze on public sector unionization rates likely to be felt as states continue their efforts to balance their budgets, unions will need to pursue more aggressively the recruitment of new members. Indeed, the BLS data demonstrates that, at least in a few industries, unions have increased their membership numbers.