Mary Jane Cobb

Cobb

DAVENPORT — The number of Iowans who are members of labor unions in the state dropped sharply in 2017, according to new estimates from the federal government.

The decline comes a year after the Republican-controlled Legislature significantly reduced the collective bargaining rights of most public sector workers in the state.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last week that 104,000 Iowans were members of labor unions in 2017, down from 129,000 the year before.

The figures, which account for both public and private sector unions, aren’t exact totals but estimates derived from a survey of a quarter of 60,000 nationwide households that take part in the government’s monthly Current Population Survey.

This isn’t the first decline in union membership in recent years. Membership in Iowa labor unions has fallen in Iowa since 2014, according to the survey. However, the estimated fall off last year was sharper than it had been previously.

The survey said that 7 percent of wage and salaried workers in the state belonged to unions in 2017. That’s down from 8.9 percent the year before.

Public unions have felt under siege since the Legislature’s changes, but it’s not clear whether their membership totals have suffered.

The state’s two largest public unions, the Iowa State Education Association and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, do not release membership figures.

Union officials, though, did point to recertification elections to demonstrate they still have support.

Of 481 recertification elections held last fall, only 31 unions were not recertified. That came despite new rules requiring unions to get a majority of people covered by their contracts to support recertification, rather than a majority of those voting.

“They still believe unions have a role,” Danny Homan, president of AFSCME, Iowa Council 61, said Wednesday.

Mary Jane Cobb, executive director of ISEA, also pointed to the success in the recertification elections but noted the effort diverted resources from typical union activities.

“I think that’s exactly what the Legislature wanted to happen,” she said.

The federal figures said 127,000 Iowans, or 8.6 percent, of wage and salaried employees in the state, were covered by union contracts, down from 153,000, or 10.5 percent, the year before.

In 2014, 184,000 Iowans were covered by union contracts, according to the survey.

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