The Bureau of Labor Statistics released their annual assessment of union workers in the U.S. and it wasn’t good news. For the year 2012 wage and salary workers who were a member of a union accounted for 11.3 percent of the workforce. That is down from 11.8 percent in 2011. In numbers that constitutes 14.4 million workers. Just 30-years ago, 1983 that number was 20.1 percent of the workforce and there were nearly 18 million workers who belonged to a union.
There is no doubt we are in trouble. But there was a more insightful number in the study by the DOL that should make every middle class working American concerned about the decline of America’s union membership. In 2012, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $943, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $742. That’s more than $200 per week difference.
Industry and Occupation of Union Members
In 2012, 7.3 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared with 7.0 million union workers in the private sector. The union membership rate for public-sector workers (35.9 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private-sector workers (6.6 percent). Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 41.7 percent. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters. Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities (20.6 percent) and construction (13.2 percent). Low unionization rates occurred in agriculture and related industries (1.4 percent) and in financial activities (1.9 percent).
Among occupational groups, education, training, and library occupations (35.4 percent) and protective service occupations (34.8 percent) had the highest unionization rates in 2012. Sales and related occupations (2.9 percent) and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (3.4 percent) had the lowest unionization rates.
Selected Characteristics of Union Members
The union membership rate was higher for men (12.0 percent) than for women (10.5 percent) in 2012. (See table 1.) The gap between their rates has narrowed considerably since 1983, when the rate for men was 24.7 percent and the rate for women was 14.6 percent.
In 2012, among major race and ethnicity groups, black workers had a higher union membership rate (13.4 percent) than workers who were white (11.1 percent), Asian (9.6 percent), or Hispanic (9.8 percent). Black men had the highest union membership rate (14.8 percent), while Asian men had the lowest rate (8.9 percent).
By age, the union membership rate was highest among workers ages 55 to 64 (14.9 percent). The lowest union membership rate occurred among those ages 16 to 24 (4.2 percent).
Full-time workers were about twice as likely as part-time workers to be union members, 12.5 percent compared with 6.0 percent.
In 2012, 15.9 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union. This group includes both union members (14.4 million) and workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract (1.6 million). (See table 1.) Private-sector employees comprised about half (814,000) of the 1.6 million workers who were covered by a union contract but were not members of a union.
In 2012, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $943, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $742. In addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, this earnings difference reflects a variety of influences, including variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, firm size, or geographic region.
Union Membership by State
In 2012, 31 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 11.3 percent, while 19 states had higher rates. All states in the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions reported union membership rates above the national average, and all states in the East South Central and West South Central divisions had rates below it. Union membership rates declined over the year in 34 states, rose in 14 states and the District of Columbia, and remained unchanged in 2 states.
Eight states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2012. North Carolina had the lowest rate (2.9 percent), followed by Arkansas (3.2 percent) and South Carolina (3.3 percent). Three states had union membership rates over 20.0 percent in 2012: New York (23.2 percent), Alaska (22.4 percent), and Hawaii (21.6 percent).
About half of the 14.4 million union members in the U.S. lived in just seven states (California, 2.5 million; New York, 1.8 million; Illinois, 0.8 million; Pennsylvania, 0.7 million; and Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio, 0.6 million each), though these states accounted for only about one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.
State union membership levels depend on both the state wage and salary employment level and the union membership rate. Texas, with a union membership rate of 5.7 percent, had about one-third as many union members as New York, despite having 2.7 million more wage and salary employees. Conversely, North Carolina and Hawaii had comparable numbers of union members (112,000 and 116,000, respectively), though North Carolina's wage and salary employment level (3.8 million) was more than seven times that of Hawaii (537,000).