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New York union membership fell by 96,000 in 2016, data shows

Protesters in Patchogue hold a mock funeral on

Protesters in Patchogue hold a mock funeral on May 27, 2015, for American middle-class jobs as they speak out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement. The protesters were from several local unions and other organizations. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Unions in New York State lost 96,000 members last year, a reversal of the increase recorded between 2014 and 2015, new federal data show.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that the ranks of private-sector and government unions in the state totaled 1.9 million in 2016, a drop of 5 percent from a year earlier.

The bureau did not release data for Long Island and the state’s other regions. But labor historian Lillian Clayman, an instructor at SUNY Old Westbury, said on Friday there are about 250,000 union members in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The statewide decline in union membership is part of a long-term trend, with the exceptions of increases between 2014 and 2015, when unions added 58,000 members, and between 2012 and 2013, when 145,000 were added.

Union membership in the state remains below its recent high of 2.1 million in 2005.

Last year’s shrinking of the union rolls coincided with a decline in the number of people employed in New York State. The total workforce statewide fell three tenths of one percent, or 22,000, to 8.2 million.

Martin Kohli, the bureau’s chief regional economist, noted union members represented 23.6 percent of all workers in the state, a decline from 24.7 percent in 2015.

He said New York remains the most unionized state in the country, followed by Hawaii and Alaska. The least unionized state is South Carolina.

Mario Cilento, president of the state AFL-CIO, an umbrella group of unions, said on Friday, “a strong labor movement raises the standard of living and quality of life for all working people,” both members of unions and those who do not belong to them.

“Union membership continues to be the best way for working men and women to get ahead, particularly at a time when our economy is so out of balance,” he said.

The bureau also reported that nationally, union members accounted for 10.7 percent of all workers in 2016, the lowest percentage since this set of records began in 1983.

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