DES MOINES -- 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 Iowa 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.

In Nebraska, union membership rose last year, from 64,000 to 70,000, while the number of South Dakota union members stayed about the same at 20,000.

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 Iowa belonged to unions in 2017. That's down from 8.9 percent the year before.

In Nebraska, union members accounted for 8.2 percent of the state's workers in 2017, up from 7.4 percent the previous year, while in South Dakota, 5.4 percent of workers belonged to unions.

Public unions have felt under siege since the Iowa 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 said they do not release membership figures.

Union officials, though, did point to re-certification elections to demonstrate they still have support.

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

"They still believe unions have a role," Dan Homan, president of AFSCME, Iowa Council 61, said Wednesday.

Mary Jane Cobb, executive director of ISEA, also pointed to the success in the re-certification elections but noted that 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 that 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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