U.S. Union Membership Grows Slightly In 2011

Filed under: Labor,Labor Relations/Unions,News |

Union membership in the United States grew slightly in 2011 up by about 49,000 members, according to a new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The percent of unionized wage and salary workers was 11.8%, 14.8 million workers in 2011, down slightly compared with 11.9% in 2010, according to the BLS report released 27 January 2012.

Overall union membership increased by 49,000, including 15,000 new union members in the 16- to 24-year-old age group. An increase of 110,000 union members in the private sector was partially offset by a decline of 61,000 union jobs in the public sector due to budget cuts.

Public sector union membership rates increased from 36.2% in 2010 to 37.0% in 2011.

“Despite an unprecedented volley of partisan political attacks on workers’ rights and the continuing insecurity of our economic crisis, union membership increased slightly last year,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in a statement.
“It is telling that as our country begins to recover the jobs lost during the Great Recession, good union jobs are beginning to come back.”

In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership 20.1% and there were 17.7 million union workers.

The largest increases in union membership during 2011 were in:

    * Construction
    * Health care services
    * Retail
    * Primary metals and fabricated metal products
    * Hospitals
    * Transportation and warehousing

“Prior reporting shows that union members have greater access to health care, retirement and leave benefits. Today’s numbers make it clear that union jobs are critical to a strong economy,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis in a statement. “And a strong economy depends on a strong and growing middle class.”

Union membership still offers advantages. The BLS report clearly shows that union members make more money and have better benefits than their non-union peers.

“The data also show that among full-time wage and salary workers, the median weekly earnings of union members were $938, compared to $729 for nonunion workers,” Solis said. “Union women earned median weekly earnings of $879, an amount 34.6% higher than their nonunion counterparts, who earned just $653 by comparison.”

The public sector remains a stronghold for unions, with public sector workers accounting for more than half of all unionized workers in the U.S. In 2011, 7.6 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared with 7.2 million union workers in the private sector.

The union membership rate for public-sector workers at 37% was substantially higher than the rate for private-sector workers at 6.9%.

Union membership: Public employees like firefighters are often unionized. Photo: U.S. Census Bureau

Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 43.2%. 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, 21.1%, and construction, 14%. Low unionization rates occurred in agriculture and related industries (1.4%) and in financial activities (1.6%).

“Ensuring that all people have a voice at work and protecting their right to organize and bargain collectively are essential for an America that’s built to last, where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone pays his or her fair share and everyone plays by the same rules,” Solis said.

Highlights from the 2011 BLS report on union membership include:

    –Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (37%) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.9%). –Workers in education, training, and library occupations had the highest unionization rate, at 36.8%, while the lowest rate occurred in sales and related occupations (3%).
    –Black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.–Among states, New York continued to have the highest union membership rate (24.1%) and North Carolina again had the lowest rate (2.9%).

–Robert Scally

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