According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provisional estimates, in July 2003 the seasonally adjusted civilian labor force in Minnesota numbered 2,937,500, with approximately 135,500 workers unemployed, yielding an unemployment rate of 4.6%, compared to the national average of 6.2% for the same period. Since the beginning of the BLS data series in 1978, the highest unemployment rate recorded was 9.2% in February 1983. The historical low was 2.4% in April 1999. In 2001, an estimated 5.0% of the labor force was employed in construction; 15.3% in manufacturing; 5.0% in transportation, communications, and public utilities; 18.5% in trade; 6.4% in finance, insurance, and real estate; 25.5% in services; 12.2% in government; and 4.3% in agriculture.
The history of unionization in the state includes several long and bitter labor disputes, notably the Iron Range strike of 1916, the Teamsters' strike of 1934, and the Hormel strike of 1985–86. The earliest known unions—two printers' locals, established in the late 1850s—died out during the Civil War, and several later unions faded in the panic of 1873. The Knights of Labor were the dominant force of the 1880s; the next decade saw the rise of the Minnesota State Federation of Labor, whose increasing political influence bore fruit in the landmark Workmen's Compensation Act of 1913 and the subsequent ascension of the Farmer-Labor Party. The legislature enacted a fair employment practices law in 1955 and passed a measure in 1973 prescribing collectivebargaining procedures for public employees and granting them a limited right to strike.
The US Department of Labor reported that in 2002, 439,000 of Minnesota's 2,503,000 employed wage and salary workers were members of unions. This represented 17.6% of those so employed, unchanged from 2001 but down from 18.8% in 1998. In all, 457,000 workers (18.3%) were represented by unions. In addition to union members, this category includes workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract.