EverythingPeople This Week!

Published on Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Union Membership Continues to Slip

Author: Michael Burns

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its report on 2018 union membership last week and total union membership continues to slip as a percent of the U.S. workforce. For 2018 total union membership – public and private employers – stood at 10.5% (14.7 million workers). That downward trend of 0.2 percentage points from 2017, continues a downward trend from the union movement’s heydays of the late 50’s/early 60’s where union membership was estimated at over 35% of the U.S. workforce.Labor Union binder and pen

Some of the data breakouts for 2018 show that public sector union membership is at 33.9%. Private sector union membership is 6.4%.  The states with the highest union membership are Hawaii and New York. Hawaii has over 23% of their workforce in a union. New York’s workforce is just over 22% unionized. The states with the lowest union membership are North and South Carolina each tied at just a 2.7% union represented workforce.

Michigan’s 2018 union membership was reported at 14.5%. This is down from 15.6% reported in 2017. This is a significant drop requiring further research into what may have caused an over 7% drop in unionized Michigan workers year over year. Several factors may have resulted in a lower number of reported union members other than losses of workers or union jobs. ASE will report on this when more information is released by the BLS. Though a lower number of total union membership was found, Michigan is still one of the top unionized states in the union along with California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Washington.

What the Numbers Really Say

Unions are not losing members in any great numbers. 2018 union membership stayed at a relatively steady 14.7 million workers versus 14.8 million workers in 2017. The lower membership percentage results from the robust growth of U.S. jobs in today’s economy. The steady number of employees reported in unions does reflect that the population of new workers to new jobs are not choosing to join unions at the same rate the workforce and jobs are expanding. Given the choice of joining a union and paying union dues, workers are apathetic.

In response to these numbers, union leaders noted that the Supreme Courts’ Janus decision rendered in June of last year (allowing public sector workers the right to opt out of union membership) was not hurting their numbers. In fact, AFSCME, the teachers’ union, reports it added 88,500 new members – “more than offsetting the 84,000 “agency-fee payers it lost due to the Janus decision.”  However, at least one economist commented on this “glass half full” assessment as pre-mature stating these numbers do not provide enough information about whether those public sector union “members” are now actually paying their agency fees (dues).

Other 2018 Union Membership Demographics

Men had a higher union representation rate than women (11.1% to 9.9%). Black employees were more likely to be union members than Caucasian, Asian, or Hispanic employees. Older workers were unionized at a higher rate: 12.8% of workers ages 45 to 54 and 13.3% of those ages 55 to 64 were represented by unions. While nonunion workers’ median weekly earnings were less than those of unionized employees ($860 per week versus $1,051 per week), this comparison does “not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences,” such as “variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, age, firm size, or geographic region.” (For example, unionized employees tend to be older and younger employees tend to earn less.)  The highest unionization rates in 2018 were in protective service occupations (33.9%) and in education, training, and library occupations (33.8%). Unionization rates were lowest in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (2.4%); sales and related occupations (3.3%); computer and mathematical occupations (3.7%); and in food preparation and serving related occupations (3.9%). 


Sources: Law360 (January 18, 2019, 6:50 PM EST) Union Membership Down Slightly In 2018, BLS Says; BLS Union Member Summary 2018; Jackson Lewis 1/18/19. Washington Post Opinion So Much for the Labor Movement’s Funeral 1/25/2018


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