CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The number of union workers in West Virginia is nearing its lowest point in memory, according to federal figures released Wednesday.
The number of union workers in the state has dropped sharply over the past three decades but held relatively steady in the last decade. But in 2012, about 9,000 fewer union members had jobs than in 2011.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said 84,000 union members had jobs in West Virginia in 2012, or about 12 percent of the wage-earning workforce.
That's the second lowest number of union workers since 1983, the first year for which comparable figures are available, according to unionstats.com, a respected site run by two university professors. In 1998, about 83,000 union members had jobs.
Officials at the state's largest union, the AFL-CIO, did not have a solid or single explanation for what happened last year.
Union President Kenny Perdue said the West Virginia AFL-CIO's membership had increased over the past decade and now stands at about 70,000 active members and about 70,000 retirees.
Perdue said an economic slowdown was likely responsible for the decline.
The AFL-CIO's growth has depended on public workers joining unions.
"We're getting more public sector, we're getting more teachers, more school service, more state employees," Perdue said.
In 1983, there were about 142,000 union workers in West Virginia.
More than 80 percent of them were private sector workers. In 2011, roughly half the labor force was private sector and the other half were public sector employees, including teachers.
A spokesman for the state's other major union group, the Teamsters, did not return a call seeking comment.
State Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts, a union foe, blamed stagnation and decline in unionized industries.