WASHINGTON -- In a sign of how organized labor is trying to spread its roots more broadly in the progressive movement, Fred Azcarate, a longtime labor leader who's been heading the AFL-CIO's jobs campaign, is leaving the union federation to take the helm at USAction, a 21-state federation of community organizing groups.

Azcarate was the longtime director of Jobs with Justice, a national network of groups that advocates for low-wage workers, before leading the AFL-CIO's campaign on the ill-fated Employee Free Choice Act. At USAction, he'll build campaigns on some of the issues where organized labor is trying to find more progressive allies, like health care, Social Security, taxes, immigration and voting rights.

"I think our future, not just for labor but for progressives, is around building alliances between labor and community groups," said Azcarate, 48.

Labor groups could certainly use some help on the local and state levels.

Unions have spent the last several years trying to beat back GOP-sponsored state legislation aimed at curbing collective bargaining rights or weakening organized labor. Wisconsin Republicans passed a state law in 2011 that stripped collective bargaining from most public-sector employees, and late last year Michigan Republicans fast-tracked bills making the cradle of the U.S. auto industry a right-to-work state. The AFL-CIO, in turn, has tried to broaden its reach with non-union workers and families.

Azcarate said it's clear that organized labor can no longer fight such battles on its own, particularly as union density has dropped to a historic low in the U.S., with just 6.6 percent of private-sector workers belonging to a union last year.

"The labor movement can't win the fights they're engaged in without making alliances in communities," said Azcarate, the son of a union nurse. "I think we’re in a crisis. It’s a decades-long attack on working families and their organizations and their unions, and it's put us in a pretty big hole, but I see hope there."

At the 14-year-old USAction, Azcarate will replace founding director Jeff Blum.

Loading Slideshow...
  • 10. Arizona

    > Pct. of workers in unions: 5.2% (tied for 9th lowest) > Union workers: 125,557 (25th lowest) > 10-yr. change in union membership: 8.7% (7th largest increase) > Total employment: 2,433,824 (21st highest) Just over 5% of the state’s workers were members of labor unions in 2012, down from 5.6% in 2002 and from 6% in 2011. Arizona is one of a handful of states where private sector union membership expanded between 2002 and 2012, growing by more than 16%. However, the state’s conservative leadership has increasingly become hostile toward these groups. In 2012, Governor Jan Brewer announced her support for legislation to weaken labor unions. Among the proposals were laws prohibiting public labor unions from collective bargaining, ending automatic payroll deductions for union dues and stripping civil-service protections for state employees, making it easier to fire them. The legislation was not passed. (Photo: Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and President Barack Obama) <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/02/22/the-states-with-the-strongest-and-weakest-unions-3" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 9. Utah

    > Pct. of workers in unions: 5.2% (tied for 9th lowest) > Union workers: 60,829 (13th lowest) > 10-yr. change in union membership: 3.2% (17th largest increase) > Total employment: 1,181,074 (19th lowest) Utah added over 232,000 jobs between 2002 and 2012, growing employment statewide by a nation-high 24.5%. But over that period the state added less than 2,000 union members. Among the reasons was a large decline in the percentage of public workers who were part of unions — from 21.3% to 15.8%. By comparison, 35.9% of public sector employees are part of a union nationwide. But despite limited and falling union membership among state employees, a bill was introduced earlier this year that would ban collective bargaining on issues not related to wages or benefits by state and local government workers. Opponents argue the bill is not needed, because Utah allows individuals the right to work in union-heavy occupations without either joining the union or paying dues. (Photo: Utah Governor Gary R. Herbert) <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/02/22/the-states-with-the-strongest-and-weakest-unions-3" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 8. Idaho

    > Pct. of workers in unions: 4.8% (tied for 7th lowest) > Union workers: 29,216 (4th lowest) > 10-yr. change in union membership: -25.2% (9th largest decrease) > Total employment: 613,845 (11th lowest) Although the number of jobs in Idaho increased by more than 11% between 2002 and 2012, union membership declined by a quarter in the same time period. The decline was dispersed relatively evenly across the public and private sectors, with membership falling 21.5% and 28.1%, respectively. In January 2012, a federal judge ruled that a pair of anti-union laws passed by the conservative Idaho legislature violated federal law. As passed, these laws prohibited “job targeting programs” that used union dues to help contractors win bids and also banned “project labor agreements” that allowed contractors to sign agreements with union workers while concurrently bidding on public projects. (Photo: Idaho Governor C. L. Otter) <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/02/22/the-states-with-the-strongest-and-weakest-unions-3" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 7. Tennessee

    > Pct. of workers in unions: 4.8% (tied for 7th lowest) > Union workers: 124,331 (24th lowest) > 10-yr. change in union membership: -43.8% (the largest decrease) > Total employment: 2,590,205 (18th highest) Union membership in Tennessee fell by more than 43% from 2002 to 2012, the largest decline in the nation. In that time, the percentage of workers who were part of a union fell from 9.1% to just 4.8%. Among public sector workers, the decline was even more pronounced — from 22.6% to 14.7%. The state is a right-to-work state. Advocates contend such laws attract jobs, while critics believe they make recruiting union members difficult and ultimately leads to decreased wages. (Photo: Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam) <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/02/22/the-states-with-the-strongest-and-weakest-unions-3" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 6. Georgia

    > Pct. of workers in unions: 4.4% (tied for 5th lowest) > Union workers: 170,726 (20th highest) > 10-yr. change in union membership: -21.7% (14th largest decrease) > Total employment: 3,912,100 (8th highest) Between 2002 and 2012, Georgia added over 300,000 workers, one of the largest employment increases in the nation during that time. However, because the number of union workers declined by over 47,000, union participation fell from an already-low 6% to just 4.4%. Between 2002 and 2012, public union participation fell from 18.6% to just 10.5% — lower than all but four other states. Although more than 130,000 new public sector jobs were created over those 10 years, union membership fell by nearly 30% among public employees. Last year, only 3.1% of private sector employees were affiliated with a union — among the lowest percentages of all states in the U.S. (Photo: Georgia Governor Nathan Deal) <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/02/22/the-states-with-the-strongest-and-weakest-unions-3" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 5. Virginia

    > Pct. of workers in unions: 4.4% (tied for 5th lowest) > Union workers: 159,512 (24th highest) > 10-yr. change in union membership: -18.8% (15th largest decrease) > Total employment: 3,594,507 (12th highest) Virginia has one of the lowest unionization rates in the country in both the private and public sectors. A mere 3% of private sector workers in the state were unionized in 2012. Just over 10% of public sector employees were covered by a union in 2012, a lower percentage than all but two states and down from 15.6% in 2002. Labor unions did eke out a small victory in January, when the Virginia Senate narrowly rejected a proposal to add right-to-work provisions to the state constitution. The state’s right-to-work law is still in effect by statute. (Photo: Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell) <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/02/22/the-states-with-the-strongest-and-weakest-unions-3" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 4. Mississippi

    > Pct. of workers in unions: 4.3% > Union workers: 47,875 (8th lowest) > 10-yr. change in union membership: -32.2% (3rd largest decrease) > Total employment: 1,115,953 (17th lowest) Total union membership in Mississippi was just over 4% last year, with total membership declining nearly a third in the past 10 years. Private union membership was cut in half between 2002 and 2012, falling from 6% to 3%. This was one of the largest decreases of all states. However, membership in public sector unions actually rose nearly 12%, significantly more than any of the bottom 10 states on this list. The economic situation in Mississippi is especially grim. The state’s median household income of $36,919 was the lowest in the U.S., as was the poverty rate of 22.6%. (Photo: Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant) <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/02/22/the-states-with-the-strongest-and-weakest-unions-3" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 3. South Carolina

    > Pct. of workers in unions: 3.3% > Union workers: 58,413 (12th lowest) > 10-yr. change in union membership: -29.3% (7th largest decrease) > Total employment: 1,773,172 (24th highest) Just one in 30 workers in South Carolina belongs to a union, one of the lowest rates in the country. A paltry 1.3% of private sector workers in the state belong to a union, the lowest percentage in the entire country. Over the past 10 years, private sector union membership declined by 61.7%, more than any other state except for Arkansas. The state’s governor, Nikki Haley, has taken a vocal anti-union stance since taking office in 2011. In an interview with Fox News back in 2012, Haley said: “There’s a reason that South Carolina’s the new ‘it’ state. It’s because we are a union buster.” (Photo: South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley) <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/02/22/the-states-with-the-strongest-and-weakest-unions-3" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 2. Arkansas

    > Pct. of workers in unions: 3.2% > Union workers: 36,667 (6th lowest) > 10-yr. change in union membership: -42.1% (2nd largest decrease) > Total employment: 1,155,140 (18th lowest) Arkansas has the second smallest percentage of unionized workers, due primarily to the decline in private sector membership. Between 2002 and 2012, private sector union membership dropped by almost 62%. As of 2012, a mere 1.4% of private sector workers were covered by labor unions, lower than any other state except for South Carolina. Union manufacturing jobs in the state decreased by nearly 75% over the past 10 years, while total manufacturing employment decreased by just 20.6%. Arkansas is one of just a handful of states where right-to-work laws are embedded in the state’s constitution. (Arkansas Governor: Mike Beebe) <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/02/22/the-states-with-the-strongest-and-weakest-unions-3" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>

  • 1. North Carolina

    > Pct. of workers in unions: 2.9% > Union workers: 111,482 (21st lowest) > 10-yr. change in union membership: -1.3% (31st largest decrease) > Total employment: 3,804,593 (9th highest) With just 2.9% of employees in a labor union in 2012, North Carolina is the least-unionized state in the entire country. Only 1.8% of private sector workers were members of a labor union as of 2012, lower than any state except for South Carolina and Arkansas. In addition, only 8.8% of public employees in the state belong to a union, the lowest rate in the country. While the number of public sector jobs grew 20% between 2002 and 2012, the percentage of public workers unionized declined from 10.5% in 2002. Although many right-to-work proponents claim that deunionization helps spur job creation, North Carolina’s lack of union representation has not led to low unemployment — the unemployment rate in the state as of December 2012 was 9.2%, the fifth highest rate in the country. (Photo: North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory) <a href="http://247wallst.com/2013/02/22/the-states-with-the-strongest-and-weakest-unions-3" target="_hplink">Read more at 24/7 Wall St. </a>