Union membership, representation fell in Wisconsin in 2021

Milwaukee Art Museum workers are calling on leadership to solidify a first union contract.

Last updated on April 28th, 2022 at 08:16 pm

The number of union members or workers who are represented by a union in the state fell in 2021, a year after both figures grew in 2020, according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics on Thursday.

Wisconsin had 215,000 union members this past year, down from 227,000 in 2020. As percentage of total workers, the state’s union membership went from 8.7% to 7.9% as the workforce covered in the data grew from 2.59 million to nearly 2.71 million.

The number of workers represented by a union, which includes members and those covered by a union or employee association contract, decreased from 264,000 to 251,000. As a percentage of overall employment, representation fell from 10.2% to 9.3%.

While the overall numbers are trending down, unions have made some recent gains in the state. Most notably, workers at Colectivo Coffee and the Milwaukee Art Museum voted to unionize.

Nationally, union membership fell from 10.8% of workers to 10.3% while representation went from 12.1% to 11.6%.

Among occupations, only those in farming, fishing and forestry saw percentage point gains of more than 1 in representation or membership. Community and social service, legal, protective service, production, and transportation all saw decreases of more than one point.

Across industries, agriculture, publishing, motion picture and sound recording, broadcasting, and real estate and rental and leasing saw more than a point increase in membership or representation. Durable goods manufacturing, transportation, utilities, warehousing, telecommunications and federal and local governments saw decreases of greater than a point.

Industry and occupation data is not available at the state level.

Wisconsin’s declining union figures left the state at 29th in the country for union representation. In 2020, the state ranked 26th.

At 9.3%, Wisconsin’s union representation rate is still higher than it was from 2016 to 2019 when it ranged from 8.6% to 9.1%.

Union representation has undergone a dramatic shift in Wisconsin over the past decade. In the 2000s, around 16.3% of workers in the state were represented by a union on average and Wisconsin ranked around 14th in the country on average.

Following the passage of Act 10, the percentage of workers represented by a union fell to an average of 12.2% from 2011 to 2015 and the state ranked 23rd in the country on average.

From 2016 on, Wisconsin around 9.2% of workers have been represented by a union on average and the state’s average rank is around 30th.

While union membership and representation were down nationally, some states did see increases. Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington all saw increase of more than one percentage point in representation.

However, more states saw declines in union representation, led by Nebraska, which saw a 2.5-point decline to 8% of workers being represented by a union. Other states with declines of more than a point included Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas and Wyoming.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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