Chart: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

California has the fifth highest rate of union membership in the country among its work force.

A recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals 17.5 percent of workers in the state — more than 2.4 million people — to be union members in 2010. That’s up 0.3 percentage points from the year before.

For the entire U.S., the average rate of union membership is just under 12 percent. Membership rates have steadily declined since record keeping began in 1983, when more than 20 percent of American workers were represented by a union.

California rates have fluctuated between 15.5 percent in 2000 and 18.4 percent in 2008.

“California being a fairly high manufacturing state … it’s still a significant sector and will maintain its union membership status,” said Todd Johnson, an economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statics.

Top five states with the highest rate of unionized workers:

State Percent of union members
New York 24.4
Alaska 22.9
Hawaii 21.8
Washington 19.4
California 17.5

Southern states had the lowest rate of union membership. Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas and Louisiana were the lowest, with union membership rates at 4.9 percent or less.

Top five states with the lowest rate of unionized workers:

State Percent of union members
North Carolina 3.2
Arkansas 4.0
Georgia 4.0
Louisiana 4.3
Mississippi 4.5

The downward trend in union memberships nationally, Johnson said, can be partly attributed to a decrease in private industry sectors that have moved away from an employment area where union membership was prevalent.

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