Unionization Rate Increases, Decreases, and Stays the Same

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percent of American workers belonging to labor unions in 2013 was the same as in 2012 – 11.3%. Pretty amazing that the number remained steady considering all the people in the workforce. By peeling back the numbers, we get a better look at what is happening in labor relations. 

Today there are about 14.5 million union workers, a number that is down from 17.7 million in 1983 when this statistic was first reported. So, about 3,000,000 less workers belong to a union now than 30 years ago – a sharp 17% decline. While readers of this blog are encouraged by an overall shrinking union force (well, readers who are not part of organized labor trolling this site), keep in mind that unionization did not shrink from last year, it remained the same. And there is at least one sector that has seen an increase in union membership.

The percent of construction workers who were members of unions increased from 13.2 to 14.1 percent. This represents 95,000 warm bodies joining construction unions. The cost of building a new building just went up.

As usual, public-sector workers were more likely to be in a union. The unionization rate for them was 35.3% last year, more than 5 times higher than the paltry sub-7% unionization of private sector workers. And Thomas Perez, U.S. Secretary of Labor, is not happy with such a low number.

Secretary Perez issued the following advertisement statement:

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that, in 2013, the unionization rate of employed wage and salary workers was 11.3 percent. Among private-sector employees, the rate was 6.7 percent.

The data also show [sic] that among full-time wage and salary workers, union members have a higher median weekly earning than nonunion workers. The median weekly earnings of union members were $950, compared to $750 for nonunion workers.

Along with higher wages, other data show that union members have greater access to employment-based benefits, such as health insurance, a retirement savings plan, and sick and vacation leave.

Workers’ ability to form unions and engage in collective bargaining has been a cornerstone of a strong middle class. The decline in union membership over the last few decades has contributed to more working families struggling to get by. When workers have a seat at the table, they are better able to bargain for their fair share of the value they helped create; and that leads to greater economic security and economic mobility for everyone. As our economy continues to recover and we work to create good jobs, we need to ensure workers can lift their voices to raise wages, reduce inequality and help more people climb ladders of opportunity.

Wow, there is so much fodder for commentary, but in the interest of keeping this blog post at a manageable length, I will just hit the highlights.

  • Median – to arrive at a median number, salaries are lined up in descending order and the middle number is the median (or the average of the middle two numbers if the list contains an even number of salaries). This number does account for different industries, full time versus part time occupations, or geographic location (with New York state having the highest percent of union workers, a high cost of living, and above average wages to begin with, geographic location is important). Using the median is more than comparing apples to oranges; it’s like comparing apples to the whole fruit market.
  • Health Care – doesn’t ObamaCare make union health care obsolete, and haven’t most unions jumped off the ObamaCare bandwagon even denouncing it in some respects?
  • Retirement Savings – do I need to remind Secretary Perez how most union pension plans are critically underfunded and retiree benefits are being reduced, health insurance costs and co-pays are going up despite promises to the contrary, and workers are forced to work longer to qualify for those reduced benefits?
  • Fair Share – are we still talking about this?

We already knew that President Obama and the National Labor Relations Board were doing all they could to increase unionization among private sector companies. Now that the Secretary of Labor – who had an extremely pro-union agenda before becoming Secretary last year – is also publically advocating for higher unionization rates, companies are in for a horribly rough next few years.