Bad economy reduces isle union membership


POSTED: Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Although Hawaii's percentage of union workers was nearly double the national average, job losses, especially in the construction and hospitality sectors, reduced the state's union footprint, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hawaii's union membership, which accounted for 23.5 percent of all salary and wage jobs in the state in 2009, shrank 0.8 of a percentage point as the recession affected heavily unionized sectors of the islands. Hawaii lost 23,300 private-sector jobs from December 2008 to December 2009, with the greatest declines in transportation and utilities, construction, and leisure and hospitality, according to data from the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

“;It was a pretty tough year, and actually the report comes as no surprise,”; said Randy Perreira, president of the Hawaii AFL-CIO and executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state's largest public-sector union.

The decline represents a 6.4 percentage-point drop from a 29.9 percent membership level in 1989, the peak year for union membership in Hawaii.

;[Preview]  Decrease In Union Membership

There are several factors why membership is down. The most obvious is the economy. With less people working, there are less people in the union.


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As Hawaii's main economic drivers, construction and tourism lost revenue, workers lost hours and jobs, and companies used attrition to cut positions, Perreira said.

“;And, added to that, there have been layoffs of government employees,”; he said, adding that HGEA's membership has shrunk to 29,000 during the past year as several hundred members chose to retire or were laid off.

Perreira expects more losses in June as government worker retirements mount and additional programs are cut, but said the unions are hopeful that efforts are being made to preserve jobs.

Due to the composition of its hospitality and service-related jobs, Hawaii always has been one of the largest union states, said Todd Johnson, BLS economist.

“;For the last decade Hawaii has been second only to New York except for 2006, when it actually had the highest percentage of union membership,”; Johnson said.

But while Hawaii maintained its No. 2 ranking, it was the only state among the top 10 with the largest percentage of union members to contract. In comparison, while the number of workers nationwide belonging to a union dropped, the nation's union members held their percentage.

“;I think given your dependence on recreation and tourism that you saw a disproportionate decline,”; Johnson said.

As Hawaii's hospitality sector begins to post higher occupancies, hours and jobs will grow, Perreira said.

However, it could take longer for the state's construction sector to get back to work, he said.

“;Construction is something of a cyclical industry, but we are seeing a more pronounced slump than we've seen in years,”; Perreira said. “;The global economic meltdown has made financing hard to come by, and circumstances have led people to be gun-shy about expansion and, as a result, things have slowed down to a snail's pace.”;







Although union membership was essentially unchanged in the U.S., Hawaii lost a small percentage of its union members from 2008 to 2009. That said, the state continues to be near the top among states with the largest union membership.


1. New York2,019,00025.2%
2. Hawaii123,000 23.5%
3. Alaska65,00022.3%
4. Washington574,00020.2%
5. New Jersey721,00019.3%
6. Michigan710,00018.8%
7. Rhode Island80,00017.9%
8. Illinois951,00017.5%
9. Connecticut265,00017.3%
10. Oregon250,00017.0%

        Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics