Union Membership Down in Minnesota, Wisconsin

By KBJR News 1

January 24, 2013 Updated Jan 24, 2013 at 7:27 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com)-- A combination of factors has brought union membership levels down all across the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has released numbers, revealing the country's lowest level of labor membership since the 1930's.

Wisconsin has been ground zero in Union struggle being experienced across the country. It was the site of a massive protest in March of 2011, after Governor Walker introduced a budget bill stripping most state workers of collective bargaining rights.

"We've seen over the past two years a peak of political and ideological attacks against unions," said Zach Sias, Field Coordinator with Northeast Area Labor Council..

Northland labors leaders say its government action like Walker's budget that has brought union membership to record low levels, a drop to 11.3%, from a high of about 30% in the 1950's.

"A.F.S.M.E., which represents public employees, has seen a decline in their membership in states like Wisconsin with right to work and Michigan as well," said Sias at the Duluth Labor Temple.

James Skurla, Director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Minnesota-Duluth says while state budgets do play a factor; a lagging economic recovery plays a bigger role.

"Probably the biggest one is the recession has been dragging on here and it's been a slow recovery and it's been a jobless recovery and a lot of the jobs that have been cut are union jobs," said Skurla.

He says that in the Northland, where there is a heavy presence of labor jobs, the economic impact of fewer union workers is complicated because while businesses and governments will spend less on wages, employees will have less money to spend in their local economies.

"If we have low wages, we're not going to have that spending so it's kind of a catch-22 that we've built in America today," said Skurla.

In Minnesota and Wisconsin, the percentage of unionized workers fell more sharply than the national average.

Minnesota's went from 15.1 % to 14.2, while Wisconsin's fell from 13.3 % to 11.2%.