Amid widespread decline, fed membership in unions down slightly

Wednesday - 1/23/2013, 3:36pm EST

The number of American workers who are union members declined to the lowest level since the 1930s, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And federal employees didn't buck the downward trend, although the ranks of unionized feds remains relatively high compared to the private sector.

Overall, of the more than 3.5 million workers employed by the federal government in 2012, about 956,000 — or 26.9 percent — were members of unions, according to the BLS data. That's a slight decline from 2011, when 28.1 percent of federal workers were union members.

In an emailed statement provided to Federal News Radio, Colleen Kelley, president of the National Treasury Employees Union, attributed the slight drop last year to "hiring freezes that have been implemented in nearly every agency where we represent workers."

Kelley also cited the increase in buyouts and early-retirements offered by federal agencies last year.

But even with the slight federal decline (and more drastic decreases among state and local workers), public-sector union membership was more than five times higher than the private-sector membership rate of 6.6 percent.

The total percentage of the unionized American workforce — both public- and private-sectors — declined from 11.8 percent in 2011 to 11.3 percent last year.

BLS also collects data on the percentage of federal employees who claim no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union or an employee-association contract. Those numbers also declined last year — from 33.2 percent in 2011 to 31.4 percent.

Still, federal union membership rates have mostly held steady over the past few years. In 2010, about 26.2 percent of the federal workforce was unionized — nearly identical to last year's level.

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