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Why The Fuss Over Unions?

There are very few union members in New Mexico

Why do they even matter in the economic development effort?

Conservatives see unions as a threat and want them gone, while liberals and progressives view them pretty much as sacred and holy.

Conservatives keep pushing for right-to-work legislation in New Mexico to blunt the political power of unions, and Democratic political candidates court unions and slavishly chase their endorsements. Each endorsement is hailed as the backing from a massive political force.

But why do conservatives fear them, and who do Dems love them? Are those fears and embraces of unions justified?

Not when you look at the numbers, because there are very few union members in New Mexico. In 2016, there were 49,000 union members in the state and they represented 6.3 percent of the workforce, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And, the number of union members in the state has been dropping. In 2006 there were 62,000 union members in the state and they represented 7.8 percent of the workforce. But their numbers have been dropping since.

Republicans and conservatives say New Mexico needs to become a right-to-work state if its economy is to grow. They say that many companies looking to relocate or expand their operations won't go to a non-right-to-work state. They say we lose chances to nab those firms simply because we protect unions, which because of their low membership numbers, have ceased to be a viable force for workers. So why coddle them?

Others can't understand why companies looking to relocate to any sate don't actually do the math, count union membership and realize that half of all union members live in seven states, and that everywhere else, unions aren't much of a force. And that union membership is concentrated in the public sector.

And yet, when you read the news releases from Democratic political candidates when they get a union endorsement, you'd think that God had just spoken. The candidates tout the unions as a massive political force, which they're not.

So here are some facts about union membership in New Mexico and the nation:

- Nationally, there 14.6 million union members in 2016 and they represented just 10.7 percent of all workers. That rate was down 0.4 percent from 2015.

- Union membership totaled 17.7 million in 1983 and they made up 20.1 percent of the workforce.

- Over half of the 14.6 million union members in the U.S. lived in just 7 states (California, 2.6 million; New York, 1.9 million; Illinois, 800,000; Pennsylvania, 700,000; and Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio, 600,000 each, though these states accounted for only about one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.

- Union membership is concentrated in the public sector. The unionization rate of public sector employees is 34.4 percent, five times higher than the private sector rate of 6.4 percent. In 2016, there were 7.1 million union members in the public sector and 7.4 million in the private sector.

- In 2016, 27 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 10.7 percent, while 23 states had rates above it. All states in the West South Central division had union membership rates below the national average, and all states in both the Middle Atlantic and the Pacific divisions had rates above it. Union membership rates decreased over the year in 31 states and the District of Columbia, increased in 16 states, and were unchanged in 3 states.

- Nine states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2016, with South Carolina having the lowest rate (1.6 percent). The next lowest rates were in North Carolina (3.0 percent), Arkansas (3.9 percent), and Georgia (3.9 percent). New York was the only state with a union membership rate over 20.0 percent in 2016 at 23.6 percent.

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