Review Of Union Membership In U.S. (1999-2019) Together Labor And Industry Leaders Must Rebuild America’s Economy

From the WebSteward – After reviewing data archived in the U.S. DOL files and reflecting back on some 40 years as a member, lodge officer and steward of the International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers I couldn’t help but wonder if the deadly impact of the Coronavirus and the economic downturn in global and U.S. markets would spell the end of America’s standing in the world as an economic power and what effects would that have in regards to U.S. currency. There was a time when Unions were strong in regards to numbers in America and the wages and benefits workers received under a union Collective Bargaining Agreement brought about the strong middle-class where workers were able to afford nice houses, nice dependable automobiles, and were able to send there children to college with the hope that they would do better and struggle less than their generation. What I am describing is what is commonly referred to as “The American Dream”. Unions have worked their butts off to try and halt the decline of Unions in the U.S. and the information contained in the following paragraphs reflect a twenty year span from 1999 through 2019. What this nation needs are strong Unions. Everyone would benefit so let’s get busy and make it happen.

Union Members In 1999

In 1999, the share of wage and salary workers who were members of unions was 13.9 percent, essentially unchanged from the prior year, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today.  The number of union members was 16.5 million in 1999, up slightly from 1998.

Some highlights from the 1999 data are:

  • Government workers were four times as likely to be union members as were their private sector counterparts.
  • Local government workers, a group that includes police officers and firefighters, had the highest unionization rate in the public sector.
  • A little over one-fifth of employed black men were members of unions–the highest unionization rate across the major demographic groups.

Membership by Industry and Occupation

In 1999, government workers continued to have a substantially higher unionization rate (37.3 percent) than workers in the private sector (9.4 percent).  Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest unionization rate, at 42.9 percent.  Among the private non-agricultural industries, the highest unionization rate occurred in transportation and public utilities (25.5 percent).  Unionization rates in manufacturing (15.6 percent) and in construction (19.1 percent) were higher than the average as well.  The unionization rate in manufacturing continued to decline in 1999. The non-agricultural industry with the lowest unionization rate in 1999 was finance, insurance, and real estate (2.1 percent).  

Among the occupational groups, protective service continued to have the highest unionization rate, at 38.2 percent.  Other occupational groups with higher-than-average unionization rates were professional specialty workers (19.7 percent); precision production, craft, and repair workers (22.4 percent); and operators, fabricators, and laborers (20.7 percent), many of whom work in the manufacturing industry.  The unionization rate was lowest in sales occupations (4.1 percent).

Demographic Characteristics of Union Members

Union membership continued to be higher among men (16.1 percent) than women (11.4 percent).  The gap in unionization rates between the sexes has been closing; in 1983 the rate for men was 24.7 percent and the rate for women was 14.6 percent.  

Blacks continued to have higher unionization rates (17.2 percent) than whites (13.5 percent) and Hispanics (11.9 percent).  Among the major worker groups, black men continued to have the highest union membership rate (20.5 percent), while white and Hispanic women continued to have the lowest rates (10.9 and 10.4 percent, respectively).  Workers ages 35 to 64 were more likely to be union members than their younger counterparts.  Full-time workers were more than twice as likely as part-time workers to be union members.

Union Representation of Nonmembers

About 1.7 million wage and salary workers were represented at their workplace by a union in 1999 but were not union members themselves. A little more than half of these workers were employed in government. 

Earnings

In 1999, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $672, compared with a median of $516 for wage and salary workers who were not represented by unions. The difference reflects a variety of influences in addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, including variations in the distributions of union members and non-union employees by occupation, industry, firm size, or geographic region.

Technical Note

The estimates in this release are obtained from the Current Population Survey (CPS), which provides the basic information on the labor force, employment, and unemployment.  The survey is conducted monthly for the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the Bureau of the Census from a scientifically selected national sample of about 50,000 households.  The union membership and earnings data are tabulated from one-quarter of the CPS monthly sample and are limited to wage and salary workers.  Excluded are all self-employed workers.

Reliability of the estimates

Statistics based on the CPS are subject to both sampling and non-sampling error.  When a sample, rather than the entire population, is surveyed, there is a chance that the sample estimates may differ from the “true” population values they represent.  The exact difference, or sampling error, varies depending upon the particular sample selected, and this variability is measured by the standard error of the estimate.  There is about a 90 percent chance, or level of confidence, that an estimate based on a sample will differ by no more than 1.6 standard errors from the “true” population value because of sampling error.  BLS analyses are generally conducted at the 90-percent level of confidence.

The CPS data also are affected by non-sampling error.  Non-sampling error can occur for many reasons, including the failure to sample a segment of the population, inability to obtain information for all respondents in the sample, inability or unwillingness of respondents to provide correct information, and errors made in the collection or processing of the data.

Definitions

The principal definitions used in this release are described briefly below.

  • Union members. Data refer to members of a labor union or an employee association similar to a union.
  • Represented by unions. Data refer to union members, as well as workers who have no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union or an employee association contract.
  • Usual weekly earnings. Data represent earnings before taxes and other deductions and include any overtime pay, commissions, or tips usually received (at the main job in the case of multiple jobholders). Prior to 1994, respondents were asked how much they usually earned per week. Since January 1994, respondents have been asked to identify the easiest way for them to report earnings (hourly, weekly, biweekly, twice monthly, monthly, annually, other) and how much they usually earn in the reported time period. Earnings reported on a basis other than weekly are converted to a weekly equivalent.  The term “usual” is as perceived by the respondent.  If the respondent asks for a definition of usual, interviewers are instructed to define the term as more than half the weeks worked during the past 4 or 5 months.
  • Median earnings. The median is the amount which divides a given earnings distribution into two equal groups, one having earnings above the median and the other having earnings below the median. The estimating procedure places each reported or calculated weekly earnings value into $50-wide intervals which are centered around multiples of $50. The actual value is estimated through the linear interpolation of the interval in which the median lies.
  • Wage and salary workers. Workers who receive wages, salaries, commissions, tips, payment in kind, or piece rates. The group includes employees in both the private and public sectors but, for the purposes of the union membership and earnings series, excludes all self-employed persons, regardless of whether or not their businesses are incorporated.
  • Full-time workers. Workers who usually work 35 hours or more per week at their sole or principal job.
  • Part-time workers. Workers who usually work fewer than 35 hours per week at their sole or principal job.
  • Hispanic origin. Refers to persons who are of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Hispanic origin or descent. Persons of Hispanic origin may be of any race; hence, they are included in the numbers for the white and black populations.

Union Members — 2019

In 2019, the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions–the union membership rate–was 10.3 percent, down by 0.2 percentage point from 2018, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.6 million in 2019, was little changed from 2018. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.

Highlights from the 2019 data:

  • The union membership rate of public-sector workers (33.6 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than the rate of private-sector workers (6.2 percent).
  • The highest unionization rates were among workers in protective service occupations (33.8 percent) and in education, training, and library occupations (33.1 percent). (See table 3.)
  • Men continued to have a higher union membership rate (10.8 percent) than women (9.7 percent).
  • Black workers remained more likely to be union members than White, Asian, or Hispanic workers.
  • Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 81 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($892 versus $1,095). (The comparisons of earnings in this release are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences.)
  • Among states, Hawaii and New York had the highest union membership rates (23.5 percent and 21.0 percent, respectively), while South Carolina and North Carolina had the lowest (2.2 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively).

Industry and Occupation of Union Members

In 2019, 7.1 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared with 7.5 million workers in the private sector. The union membership rate declined over the year in the private sector by 0.2 percentage point to 6.2 percent. The unionization rate for public-sector workers was little changed over the year at 33.6 percent and remained substantially above that of the private sector. Within the public sector, the union membership rate was highest in local government (39.4 percent), which employs many workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as police officers, firefighters, and teachers. Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included utilities (23.4 percent), transportation and warehousing (16.1 percent), and telecommunications (14.1 percent). Low unionization rates occurred in finance (1.1 percent), insurance (1.4 percent), professional and technical services (1.4 percent), and food services and drinking places (1.4 percent).

Among occupational groups, the highest unionization rates in 2019 were in protective service occupations (33.8 percent) and in education, training, and library occupations (33.1 percent). Unionization rates were lowest in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (2.1 percent); sales and related occupations (2.8 percent); and food preparation and serving related occupations (3.5 percent).

Selected Characteristics of Union Members

In 2019, the union membership rate for men declined by 0.3 percentage point to 10.8 percent, and the rate for women was down by 0.2 point to 9.7 percent. (See table 1.) The gap between their rates have narrowed considerably since 1983 (the earliest year for which comparable data are available), when rates for men and women were 24.7 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively.

Among major race and ethnicity groups, Black workers continued to have a higher union membership rate in 2019 (11.2 percent) than workers who were White (10.3 percent), Asian (8.8 percent), or Hispanic (8.9 percent). However, the union membership rate for Black workers declined by 1.3 percentage points over the year, while the rates for other race and ethnicity groups changed little.

By age, union membership rates continued to be highest among workers ages 45 to 64. In 2019, 12.6 percent of workers ages 45 to 54 and 12.7 percent of those ages 55 to 64 were union members. Over the year, the union membership rate for workers ages 45 to 54 was little changed, while the rate for those ages 55 to 64 declined by 0.6 percentage point.

In 2019, the union membership rate for full-time workers (11.2 percent) was about twice the rate for part-time workers (5.5 percent).

Union Representation

In 2019, 16.4 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union, little changed from 2018. The percentage of workers represented by a union was 11.6 percent, a slight decrease from 11.7 percent in 2018. Workers represented by a union include both union members (14.6 million) and workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract (1.8 million).

Earnings

Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $1,095 in 2019, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $892. In addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, these earnings differences reflect a variety of influences, including variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, age, firm size, or geographic region.

Union Membership by State

In 2019, 28 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 10.3 percent, while 21 states had rates above it and 1 state had the same rate. All states in both the East South Central and West South-Central divisions had union membership rates below the national average, while all states in both the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions had rates above it.

Eight states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2019. South Carolina and North Carolina had the lowest rates (2.2 percent and 2.3 percent, respectively). The next lowest rates were in Texas and Virginia (4.0 percent each). Two states had union membership rates over 20.0 percent in 2019: Hawaii (23.5 percent) and New York (21.0 percent).

Over half of the 14.6 million union members in the U.S. lived in just seven states (California, 2.5 million; New York, 1.7 million; Illinois, 0.8 million; Pennsylvania, 0.7 million; and New Jersey, Ohio, and Washington, 0.6 million each), though these states accounted for only about one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.

Technical Note

The estimates in this release are obtained from the Current Population Survey (CPS), which provides basic information on the labor force, employment, and unemployment. The survey is conducted monthly for the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the U.S. Census Bureau from a scientifically selected national sample of about 60,000 eligible households. The union membership and earnings data are tabulated from one-quarter of the CPS monthly sample and are limited to wage and salary workers. All self-employed workers are excluded.

Reliability of the estimates

Statistics based on the CPS are subject to both sampling and non-sampling error. When a sample, rather than the entire population, is surveyed, there is a chance that the sample estimates may differ from the true population values they represent. The exact difference, or sampling error, varies depending on the particular sample selected, and this variability is measured by the standard error of the estimate. There is about a 90-percent chance, or level of confidence, that an estimate based on a sample will differ by no more than 1.6 standard errors from the true population value because of sampling error. BLS analyses are generally conducted at the 90-percent level of confidence. The state section of this release preserves the long-time practice of highlighting the state union membership rates and levels regardless of their statistical significance.

The CPS data also are affected by non-sampling error. Non-sampling error can occur for many reasons, including the failure to sample a segment of the population, inability to obtain information for all respondents in the sample, inability or unwillingness of respondents to provide correct information, and errors made in the collection or processing of the data.

Union membership questions

Employed wage and salary workers are classified as union members if they answer “yes” to the following question: On this job, are you a member of a labor union or of an employee association similar to a union? If the response is “no” to that question, then the interviewer asks a second question: On this job, are you covered by a union or employee association contract? If the response is “yes,” then these persons, along with those who responded “yes” to being union members, are classified as represented by a union.  If the response is “no” to both the first and second questions, then they are classified as nonunion.

Definitions

The principal definitions used in this release are described briefly below.

  • Union members. Data refer to members of a labor union or an employee association similar to a union.
  • Union membership rate. Data refer to the proportion of total wage and salary workers who are union members.
  • Represented by unions. Data refer to both union members and workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union or an employee association contract.
  • Data refer to workers who are neither members of a union nor represented by a union on their job.
  • Usual weekly earnings. Data represent earnings before taxes and other deductions and include any overtime pay, commissions, or tips usually received (at the main job in the case of multiple jobholders). Prior to 1994, respondents were asked how much they usually earned per week. Since January 1994, respondents have been asked to identify the easiest way for them to report earnings (hourly, weekly, biweekly, twice monthly, monthly, annually, other) and how much they usually earn in the reported time period. Earnings reported on a basis other than weekly are converted to a weekly equivalent. The term “usual” is as perceived by the respondent. If the respondent asks for a definition of usual, interviewers are instructed to define the term as more than half of the weeks worked during the past 4 or 5 months.
  • Median earnings. The median is the amount which divides a given earnings distribution into two equal groups, one having earnings above the median and the other having earnings below the median. The estimating procedure places each reported or calculated weekly earnings value into $50-wide intervals which are centered around multiples of $50. The actual value is estimated through the linear interpolation of the interval in which the median lies.
  • Wage and salary workers. Workers who receive wages, salaries, commissions, tips, payment in kind, or piece rates. The group includes employees in both the private and public sectors.Union membership and earnings data exclude all self-employed workers, both those with incorporated businesses as well as those with unincorporated businesses.
  • Full-time workers. Workers who usually work 35 hours or more per week at their sole or principal job.
  • Part-time workers. Workers who usually work fewer than 35 hours per week at their sole or principal job.
  • Hispanic or Latino ethnicity. Refers to persons who identified themselves in the enumeration process as being Spanish, Hispanic, or Latino. Persons whose ethnicity is identified as Hispanic or Latino may be of any race.

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