Wisconsin sees country’s largest drop in union membership

State moves from 19th to 32nd in union membership

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Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:08 am

The number of salary and wage employees who were union members in Wisconsin dropped by 83,000 in 2015, leaving 8.3 percent of workers in the state as union members, according to data released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The change was the largest drop of any state in the country. Texas was second with a drop of 40,000. Nationally, the percentage of wage and salary workers was 11.1 percent, unchanged from the previous year.

In 2014 there were 306,000 union members in Wisconsin and a total of 327,000 represented by unions, an 11.7 percent and 12.5 percent rate. There were 223,000 union members in 2015 and a total of 253,000 represented by unions. Wisconsin’s rate of union membership was 19th in the country in 2014 and fell to 32nd in 2015.

Wisconsin became the 25th state in the country to approve private sector right-to-work legislation when Gov. Scott Walker signed the legislation in March.  The law prohibits businesses and unions from reaching labor agreements that require workers to pay union dues. Supporters said it allowed for worker freedom and made the state more attractive to business. Opponents argued the bill would destroy labor unions, lead to lower wages and endanger workplace safety.

Wisconsin’s union membership has declined dramatically in recent years as the role of unions has evolved. In 2005, there were 410,000 members that accounted for 16.1 percent of the workforce. In 2010, there were 355,000 members accounting for 14.2 percent of the workforce. Walker and Republicans passed Act 10 in 2011, severely limiting collective bargaining for public employee unions and requiring an annual recertification vote by a majority of all union members. The previous threshold was a majority of those voting. The number of unions representing employees in the public sector has decreased under the higher standard.

Nationally, New York continued to have the highest percentage of union membership, at 24.7 percent, while South Carolina was lowest at 2.1 percent.

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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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