Green Room

Still One Growth Sector for Unions in South: Government

posted at 5:14 pm on February 24, 2014 by

The world’s media outlets were virtually unanimous in their assessments of the failed attempt of the United Auto Workers to unionize employees at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Reuters called it “a stinging defeat” for a years-long campaign “which had been seen as organized labor’s best chance to expand in the U.S. South.”

It was a stinging defeat all right, but organized labor’s best chance to expand in the U.S. South is actually the only place it has expanded anywhere for the past 50 years: government.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics produces a much-cited annual report on union membership based on the Current Population Survey, but it takes Barry Hirsch of Georgia State University and David Macpherson of Trinity University to present the disaggregated data on their web site I am chagrined to admit I did not know the site existed until tipped by Stan Greer of the National Institute for Labor Relations Research. It is a treasure trove of information that I will be culling for weeks, but I will start with a comparison of the membership numbers for public employee unions (PEUs) in each of the 50 states and DC in 2013 and 2008.

I have posted a simple table on the EIA web site. Examining statistics for public employee unions alone yields interesting results. Cumulatively, PEUs lost 8 percent of their members in the last five years. Thirty-six states suffered losses.

PEUs in 14 states and DC experienced growth in the aftermath of the recession. Seven of them grew by 15 percent or more. Six of the seven high-growth areas are in Southern states.

The list is headed by Georgia, where government unions grew by more 36 percent between 2008 and 2013. Virginia followed with 31.9% PEU growth. And though Tennessee is now seen as an anti-union enclave because of the UAW vote, government unions grew 27.4% there in the past five years. Kentucky (22.1%), Oklahoma (19.8%) and Texas (15%) round out the list. In the North, only Vermont (16.7%) was able to crack this group.

To be sure, the South still is not uniformly friendly to public sector unions. The largest declines in government union membership occurred in Mississippi (-53%) and Arkansas (-42.5%).

But if unions want to stave off total disintegration, they would do well to concentrate their efforts on the one sector of the U.S. economy that operates without market competition or ordinary limits on workforce growth. That is as true in the South as it was in the Northeast and Midwest.

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Not in South Carolina (to the best of my knowledge).

xNavigator on February 24, 2014 at 7:08 PM

In fact, SC is third-lowest.

GSA Business

The 10 states with the lowest percentages of union members in its workforce:

North Carolina 3%
Arkansas 3.5%
South Carolina 3.7%
Mississippi 3.7%
Utah 3.9%
Louisiana 4.3%
Idaho 4.7%
Texas 4.8%
South Dakota 4.8%
Arizona 5%
Virginia 5%
Georgia 5.3%


Highlights from the 2013 national data:

The 35.3% public sector rate was more than five times higher than the 6.7% private sector rate.
Workers in education, training and library occupations had the highest rate of unionization, at 35.3% for each occupation group.
Among race and ethnicity groups, black workers had a higher union membership rate in 2013, at 13.6%, than workers who were white 11%, Asian 9.4% or Hispanic 9.4%.
At 11.9%, men had a higher union membership rate than women, at 10.5%.
Among states, New York continues to have the highest membership rate at 24.4%.

xNavigator on February 24, 2014 at 7:14 PM

….thanks xNav!

KOOLAID2 on February 24, 2014 at 10:31 PM

GOP governors need to cut this crap off at the pass.

petefrt on February 25, 2014 at 9:38 AM

So, serious question here – since TN is a “Right to Work” state, what power would the UAW have had if they had won the election? If the UAW organized a strike, VW could’ve hired replacement workers and fired everyone that struck since it’s a Right to Work, right?

ramesees on February 25, 2014 at 10:25 AM

@ ramesees

not … exactly. various federal labor laws would likely apply re: the right to strike, etc. once they were offically organized. Ford had[has?] an assembly plant in Atlanta that wuz/is UAW. not sure they ever had a strike tho; iirc, the old GM plant in Arlington TX [UAW there] DID strike at least once in the 90s or 80s …

ABreitbart on February 25, 2014 at 11:04 AM


Thanks for the reply, sorry I’m late reading it. I figured as much. I love how with all these “laws” there are so many ways around them that they’re really just suggestions.

“We are a nation of suggestions and cults of personality, sir!”

ramesees on February 27, 2014 at 9:31 AM