The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, January 28, 2011

Another drop for union membership

By The Building Tradesman

(By Mark Gruenberg, PAI Staff Writer)

WASHINGTON (PAI) – The nation’s unions had 14.7 million members last year, or represented 11.9% of all U.S. workers, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported Jan. 21.  Both union membership, down by 612,000, and density, down 0.4%, declined from the year before.

The Great Recession has pushed down union membership by a total of 1.3 million in the last two years combined. That’s double the total membership gains unions made in 2007-08.

BLS union data analyst Jim Walker told Press Associates Union News Service the recession particularly hit hard at three more-densely unionized sectors: Manufacturing, construction and local government.

“Also, men dominate those industries – especially manufacturing and construction – and they have a higher share of union membership and were particularly hard hit by the downturn,” he said.

By contrast, he said, more lightly unionized sectors, including health care and hospitality, were not as hard hit by the recession.  As a result, 6.9% of private sector workers are unionized, compared to 36.2% of public workers.  Public sector unionists outnumber private sector unionists by 500,000.

Some private sectors are more unionized than others, however, led by Transportation and utilities (21.8 percent), telecommunications (15.8 percent), and construction (13.1 percent).

The decline in union membership from 2009 to 2010 was widespread, as even states with high union density, such as New York (24.2 percent), dropped.  Though the Empire State led the nation in union density for the second straight year, as well as in number of union members, its percentage declined from 25.2 percent in 2009 and its membership rolls fell by 60,000, to 1.9 million.

Three states had big drops in union density.  New Jersey lost 84,000 union members, down to 637,000, and density declined from 19.9 percent to 17.6 percent.  Illinois was down from 17.5 percent to 15.5 percent, with a 107,000-member decline in one year, to 844,000.

And Michigan, reflecting the continuing ills of the auto industry, shed 83,000 union members, down to 627,000, while density dropped from 18.8 percent to 16.5 percent. As recently as 2005, Michigan had the third highest union penetration among all the states, at 21.6 percent.

With the exception of a slight rise in 2007 and a significant jump in 2008, union membership percentage has been on a steady decline from its high of 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available.

The wage difference between unionists and non-unionists hit a key milestone last year: precisely $200 a week.  Unionists had a median wage of $917 per week compared to $717 for non-unionists.  The median is the point where half the population