W.Va. union ranks drop in 2012; reasons unclear

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The number of unionized workers in West Virginia dropped by about 9,000 last year and is nearing its lowest level in three decades.About 84,000 union members had jobs in the state in 2012, or about 12 percent of the work force, figures released this week by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show.That's only slightly better than the national rate. The statistics show that nationally, membership dropped last year from 11.8 percent to 11.3 percent of the work force, the lowest level since the 1930s.
The national decline occurred as cash-strapped state and local governments shed workers and unions faced challenges organizing new members. Overall membership fell by about 400,000 workers to 14.4 million, bureau figures show. More than half the loss, about 234,000, came from government workers, including teachers, firefighters and public administrators.West Virginia's number is the second lowest since 1983, the Charleston Daily Mail reported. According to unionstats.com, there were 83,000 union members in 1998.The president of the state Chamber of Commerce pointed to a decline in both coal mining and manufacturing, and a flat level of construction jobs.Kenny Perdue, president of the state AFL-CIO, said unions face threats not only from a slow economy but also from outsourcing and concerted efforts to undermine their power. Political battles have been waged in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and other states to curb bargaining rights and weaken union clout. Perdue said his union's membership has increased for the past decade, now standing at about 70,000 active members and an equal number of retirees. Much of the growth has come from the public sector, he said, with more teachers, school service workers and state employees joining the ranks.
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