As union membership holds steady, what’s ahead?
Monday, January 22, 2018
Labor union membership for salary and wage employees remained at a rate of 10.7 percent in 2017, matching 2016, according to the annual survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There were 14.8 million union members across the U.S. in 2017, up 262,000 from 2016.
The federal Current Population Survey (CPS) collects the data on union membership with a monthly sample of employment of Americans age 16 and up. The CPS surveys about 60,000 eligible households nationwide.
The new data on union jobs bucks the trend of a long downward trend in membership. For instance, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, with 17.7 million members, in 1983, the BLS said.
In 2017, 34.4 percent of public-sector workers were union members, over five times the rate of private-sector workers at 6.5 percent. Males' union membership rate was 11.4 percent, compared with 10.0 percent for females in 2017. The union membership rates for men and women were 24.7 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively, in 1983.
Demographics matter. In 2017, African-Americans were union members at a higher rate (14.1 percent) than whites (11.8 percent), Hispanics (9.3 percent) and Asians (8.9 percent). Workers ages 45 to 64 had the highest rates of union membership last year. The rate of organized labor was 13.2 percent for those 45 to 54 and 13.5 percent for ages 55 to 64.
"Among occupational groups, the highest unionization rates in 2017 were in protective service occupations (34.7 percent) and in education, training and library occupations (33.5 percent)," the BLS said. However, union rates for workers in education, training and library occupations continued to decline in 2017. Unionization rates were lowest in sales and allied occupations (3.2 percent).
In economic terms, union workers earn higher hourly wage-income than nonunion workers do.
"Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $1,041 in 2017, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $829," according to the BLS. (The median is the point at which half are above and half below.)
Union membership varies by state. Over half the states and the District of Columbia ranked below the 10.7 percent rate (national average), with 22 states above and one state with the same rate. Democratic-majority (blue) states tended to cluster at the top.
"Over half of the 14.8 million union members in the U.S. lived in just seven states (California, 2.5 million; New York, 2.0 million; Illinois, 0.8 million; Michigan and Pennsylvania, 0.7 million each; and New Jersey and Ohio, 0.6 million each)," according to the BLS. New York had the highest union membership rate (23.8 percent) versus South Carolina, which remained the lowest (2.6 percent).
Organized labor membership was steady or rose in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Virginia. That data runs against the union-free trend in GOP-majority (red) states.
The union rate of membership for information workers climbed to 10.7 percent in 2017 versus 10.1 percent in 2016. On a related note, in a landslide vote of 248-44, journalists and news workers at the Los Angeles Times chose last week to join the NewsGuild-Communications Workers of America, a union of 25,000 employees across the U.S. and Canada.
What's ahead for labor unions? In 2018, the Supreme Court will rule on Janus v. AFSCME, a case involving an employee opposed to paying representation fees to a public-sector union to fund its bargaining for benefits and pay. If upheld, the ruling could cut the revenues that organized labor generates and uses in part for political lobbying.
In 2016, the Supreme Court heard a similar case in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. With the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the result was a 4-4 deadlock, which allowed the fees to remain in place. It is widely expected that Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who replaced Scalia, will rule against organized labor in the new case.
Time will tell how this plays out for unions.
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