DETROIT (AP) -- The number of Michigan workers who belong to a union dropped nearly 12 percent last year, falling to its lowest level in at least 20 years, according to a new government report.
Figures released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that Michigan had 627,000 union workers in 2010 -- 11.7 percent fewer than the 710,000 the state had a year earlier.
The Detroit News reported that 2010's numbers were the lowest since the Labor Department began tracking union membership by state in 1989.
Michigan AFL-CIO President Mark Gaffney blamed the decline in part on the big drop in manufacturing that Michigan experienced. The state has lost about half of its manufacturing jobs since 2000.
Gaffney told the News that the state also has a difficult environment for organizing workers. He said unions must do more to show people that union wages and benefits also help nonunion workers' wages rise, in part because management often seeks to avoid a new union.
"We need to do a better job at explaining what unions do for society," he said.
The new membership statistics come as the Detroit-based United Auto Workers union is about to negotiate new labor contracts with Detroit's Big Three automakers. It also plans a $60 million campaign to try to organize the U.S. factories of foreign automakers.
Meanwhile, some GOP legislators are pressing for right-to-work legislation that Gov. Rick Snyder, a fellow Republican, has said he does not want to consider. Such a law would give workers the right to decide whether to join or financially support a union.
The union membership decline has been a long-term trend, but it hasn't prompted "serious soul-searching among union officials and a reconsideration of tactics," said Paul Kersey, director of labor policy for the free-market-oriented Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Midland.
Michigan's union decline coincided with a nationwide drop in union membership. Nationally, unions lost 612,000 members in 2010, dropping the unionized share of the U.S. work force to 11.9 percent from 12.3 percent in 2009, according to the government's figures. Union membership in the private sector fell to 6.9 percent from 7.2 percent.