Union membership grew slightly in Oklahoma last year, despite a national decline in organized labor, according to a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In 2012, about 115,000 workers in Oklahoma reported belonging to a union, about 7.5 percent of the workforce, compared with 94,000 workers, or 6.4 percent in 2011, according to the report.
Nationally, 11.3 percent of workers were union members in 2012, down from 11.8 percent in 2011.
An additional 25,000 workers in the state reported they were represented by a union while not being a member of the union. Workers represented by unions accounted for 9.1 percent of Oklahoma's workforce in 2012, compared to 12.5 percent nationally.
Union membership in Oklahoma has trailed several percentage points behind the national average since 1989, when comparable data became available, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, Oklahoma was one of 15 states where union membership grew in 2012, going against the national trend of shrinking organized labor, said Cheryl Abbot, regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The relative strength of Oklahoma's economy might be one reason for increased union membership in the state, she said.
“Oklahoma is doing better than the country as a whole in terms of job growth, and because of that, I'm assuming as industry sectors grew, union membership grew as well,” Abbot said.
While the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track union membership by industry on a state-by-state level, occupational data from the federal government shows increases in manufacturing and trade, transportation and utilities jobs in Oklahoma over the past year.
Oklahoma's unemployment rate has tracked several percentage points below the national level, according to date from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Unemployment was at 5.1 percent in Oklahoma for December, compared to 7.8 percent nationally, according to the commission's most recent numbers.
Ron Cobb, president of the Oklahoma City-based Teamsters Local 886, said he has noticed a slight increase in membership over the past year.
“I think it's just due to the economy being better overall,” Cobb said.
The local gained between 60 and 100 members over the past year, he said.
“There is no dramatic jump in our numbers, but it's something that is holding its own,” Cobb said.
Cobb's local has about 2,100 members. Combined with locals in Tulsa and Muskogee, Teamsters has about 4,000 members in the state, Cobb said.
AFL-CIO Oklahoma President Jim Curry said construction jobs from several energy-related projects in the state, including wind farms and the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline from Cushing to the Gulf of Mexico, have increased the demand for skilled union jobs in the state.
The AFL-CIO has about 100,000 members in Oklahoma. The union has seen a slight increase in membership in the state over the past year, Curry said, although no firm data was immediately available.
“We are a percentage of employment in the state, and when that goes up, our numbers go up, too,” Curry said.
Oklahoma is doing better than the country as a whole in terms of job growth, and because of that, I'm assuming as industry sectors grew, union membership grew as well.”
Regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics