Union Membership Shrinks to 1930s Levels; Declines in Illinois and Missouri Account for Nearly a Third of National Loss in Members across the Nation; BUSINESS

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Union membership plummeted last year to the lowest level since the 1930s as cash-strapped state and local governments shed workers and unions had difficulty organizing new members in the private sector despite signs of an improving economy.

Government figures released Wednesday showed union membership declined to 11.3 percent from 11.8 percent of the workforce, another blow to a labor movement already stretched thin by battles in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and other states to curb bargaining rights and weaken union clout.

Overall membership fell by about 400,000 workers to 14.4 million, according to estimates by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Illinois where organized labor lost 75,000 members and Missouri which lost 51,000 accounted for nearly one-third of the national decline.

The bureau had no information as to why Missouri and Illinois accounted for such a large percentage of the U.S. decline. The estimates are derived from monthly household surveys.

Nationally, more than half the loss, about 234,000, came from government workers, including teachers, firefighters and public administrators.

But unions also saw losses in the private sector even as the economy created 1.8 million jobs in 2012. That membership rate fell to 6.6 percent from 6.9 percent, a troubling sign for the future of organized labor, as job growth generally has taken place at nonunion companies.

To employers, its going to look like the labor movement is ready for a knockout punch, said Gary Chaison, professor of industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. You cant be a movement and get smaller.

Union membership was 13.2 percent in 1935 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act. Labors ranks peaked in the 1950s, when about 1 of every 3 workers was in a union. …