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Union Membership

 February 3, 2017

Union Membership

Union membership declined considerably from 11.1% in 2015 to 10.7% in 2016.  This is not a new trend.

Union membership has been on a steady decline since 1945 when roughly one-third of employed people belonged to unions.  By 1983 when the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting data, there were 17.7 million union workers which represented 20.1% of the workforce. By 2000, as shown above, that percentage had shrink to 13.4%, and now it stands at 10.7%.

There are a variety of reasons for this decline. Automation is high on the list, as many labor-intensive jobs have been replaced machinery.  The shift in the economy from being manufacturing based to services is another.  Unions have traditionally been strong in manufacturing with larger plants, and weaker in the service industry with much smaller firms.  Indeed, in the mid-1970’s the manufacturing sector represented 25% of the U.S. economy.  Today manufacturing jobs are just 9% of the total.  Also, many traditional union jobs have been shifted overseas to take advantage of lower wages.

More recently union membership is under attack from a number of different states and cities as those governors and mayors have figured out they simply cannot afford to pay for gold-plated benefits packages that the unions successfully negotiated in days gone by.  The movement away from unions started in Indiana in 2012 but spread to Michigan in 2013 and Wisconsin in 2015.  Michigan was a huge blow for union leaders because it is generally regarded as the birthplace of the modern labor movement.  In 2016 West Virginia became another right to work state followed by Kentucky in January of this year.  In all, there are now 28 right-to-work states.

Stephen Slifer

NumberNomics

Charleston, SC


Union Membership — Private vs. Public Sectors

February 3, 2017

The overall rate of union membership has been declining for years and now stands at 10.7%.

Union Membership

The unions are finding it increasingly more difficult to penetrate the private sector.  As shown below, amongst private sector workers only 6.4% belonged to unions in 2016.

Union Membership -- Private vs. Public

Unions have been far more successful in penetrating the various levels of government where the union membership rate for 2016 was 34.4% or five times as high as in the private sector.  Why have unions been so successful in the public arena?  Probably because of a perception that government workers are underpaid and, therefore, in need of union assistance in attaining their fair share of the pie.

Stephen Slifer

NumberNomics

Charleston, SC


Union Membership — By State

February 3, 2017

Union Membership -- States High Pct.

At the very top of the list is New York where 23.6% of its workers belonged to unions.  It was closely followed by Hawaii and Alaska and at 19.9% and 18.5%, respectively.  Slightly farther down the list is California at 15.9%.

Union Membership -- States Low Pct.

The biggest declines in union membership have occurred at states which have a large manufacturing presence — like Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.  As a result of automation and outsourcing of jobs overseas, union membership in those states has fallen between 3-5% since 2000.  The decline is most pronounced in Wisconsin which became a right-to-work state in 2015.  There are currently 28 right-to-work states in the U.S.

Union Membership -- States High Mfg.

Stephen Slifer

NumberNomics

Charleston, SC


Union Membership — By Occupation

February 3, 2017

Union Membership -- By Occupation

In 2016  14.5 million workers belonged to a union.  Of those 7.1 million were in the public sector compared to 7.4 million in the private sector.  However, the union membership rate for public sector works at 34.4% was substantially higher than the rate for the private sector which was 6.4%.

Among occupational groups the highest unionization rates were in education, training, and library occupations at 34.6%, followed by workers in protective service organization which includes police officers and firefighters at 34.5%.  The lowest unionization rates were in farming, fishing and forestry occupations (2.2%) , sales and related occupations (3.1%), computer and math (3.9%), food preparation and serving-related occupations (3.9%).

Stephen Sifer

NumberNomics

Charleston, S.C.


Union Membership — Weekly Earnings

February 3, 2017

Unions -- Wages- Union vs. Nonunion

Unions have been extremely successful in attracting higher wages and benefits for their members when compared to comparable earnings amongst non-union workers.

In 2012 union members earned $1,004 per week which is 25% higher than the $802 earned by non-union members.   Given these high wages it is not surprising that many companies are choosing to move to “right to work” states where union membership is not required.  Other companies are choosing to respond by moving operations offshore.  In some sense, the unions’ success is now leading to the steady contraction in membership.

That wage differential largely reflects gold-plated benefits packages  for both pensions and health care.  But someone pays for those higher labor costs.  In the case of governments the burden is born by the taxpayers.  When economic conditions are less than favorable and state and local governments are being forced to lay off workers to shrink bloated budget deficits, those governors and mayors have got to go after the unions and do what they can to trim those benefits and/or weaken union power.  They have had considerable success in recent years most notably in Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, and Kentucky.  With each successive victory other government officials work up the courage to take on the unions in their state or city.

Any way you slice it, union power is weakening in a hurry.

Stephen Slifer

NumberNomics

Charleston, SC