Unions Losing Power in Minnesota

MINNEAPOLIS – Union membership has fallen dramatically in Minnesota in the last three decades.

Labor researchers at Georgia Tech and Trinity universities compiled large amounts of union membership data at Unionstats.com. Their research, based on the monthly Current Population Survey conducted by the Census Bureau, shows that union membership in Minnesota and the United States as a whole has declined dramatically in recent decades.

In 1983, approximately 1.7 million people were employed in total in Minnesota. In 2016, that number was 2.56 million people.

Meanwhile, union membership declined by almost 30,000 in that same time span. All of this loss was in the private sector, where union membership declined by more than 58,000 people. The public sector however, saw an increase of more than 28,000.

Even with the increase in total membership, the public sector’s rate of union membership still declined by 5.4 percent from 1983 to 2016. The rate of union membership for all Minnesota employees fell by 9.1 percent to settle at 14.2 percent.

In spite of the decline in union participation, Minnesota still ranks 11th among U.S. states for rate of union membership. New York currently has the highest rate at 23.6 percent, just above the rate Minnesota had in 1983. South Carolina has the lowest rate, at only 1.6 percent.

Unions remain a powerful force in American politics. In the 2016 election cycle, the 20 unions that contributed the most to federal elections gave more than $161 million in contributions, according to OpenSecrets.org. Of this, nearly $34 million went directly to parties or candidates. Of that $30 million, or 88.5 percent, went to supporting Democratic candidates.

Minnesota is one of 22 states which does not have a right-to-work law in place. This means that unions can compel workers to join a union, or at a minimum pay union dues, as a condition of employment.

The top nine states in terms of total union membership rate are these so called “forced unionism” states. Forced unionism states also account for 16 of the top 17. Manufacturing heavy Michigan ranks tenth overall, having become a right-to-work state in 2012.

Anders Koskinen