The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, February 05, 2010

Major drop for union membership in 2009

By The Building Tradesman

WASHINGTON (PAI)–The number of union members nationwide declined by 771,000 in 2009, to 15.33 million, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.  That wiped out numerical gains of the prior two years, combined.  But unions’ share of the workforce was virtually unchanged, moving from 12.4% in 2008 to 12.3% last year.

BLS said the “statistically significant” decline “largely reflected the overall drop in employment due to the recession.”  Its survey of 60,000 households, done throughout 2009, showed an overall decline in employment of almost 4.9 million, to 124.5 million.

BLS did not go beyond that, although its data revealed a 232,000-member decline in just one sector, durable goods manufacturing, alone.  That could very well be primarily accounted for by the layoffs, buyouts and crash at the not-so-big-anymore Detroit Three automakers, BLS economist Jim Walker admitted.

And Walker told Press Associates Union News Service the numbers of unionists nationwide are not strictly comparable year to year.  That’s because the agency, after gathering data about a worker’s occupation, industry and income, then asks if the worker is a union member, or represented by a union — and that’s all.   It does not ask the worker if he or she was a union member the year before.

And while one-fourth of the addresses used for the union member data are the same as the year before, the occupants at those addresses may have changed, Walker adds.  That makes even a year-by-year comparison at those households inaccurate.

The AFL-CIO did not comment on the drop in union numbers, and SEIU President Andy Stern mentioned it on Jan. 26, but did not elaborate.  Other facts about the union workforce in the BLS survey included:

* Topping a trend that has built for years, the 7.896 million unionists who are public workers — teachers, Fire Fighters, police, state employees, etc. — now outnumber the 7.431 million in the private sector.   And while private sector union density dropped from 7.6% in 2008 to 7.2% last year, public sector density rose 0.6%, to 37.4%.

* Unionists still far out-earn their non-union colleagues and the gap is widening.  The median weekly salary for union members last year — the point at which half are above that dollar figure and half below — was $908, up $22 from the year before.   The median for non-unionists was $710 in 2009, up $19 from 2008.

* The “wage gap” between men and women is narrower for unionists than for everyone else — and it’s closing for union women while widening for non-union women.

The median weekly wage for union women last year was $840, 87.8% of the $957 median for union men.  In 2008, union women earned 86% of what union men earned.  The median weekly wage gap among non-union women versus non-union men in 2009: $628 to $786.  In 2009, non-union women earned 79.9% of what non-union men earned, down from 80.3% the year before.

* Four states were more than one-fifth unionized: New York (25.2%), Hawaii (23.5%), Alaska (22.3%) and Washington (20.2%).  But actual union numbers dropped in all four states, with the smallest decline — of 10,000 — in New York, down to 2.019 million.  Density rose in New York and Washington.  The least-unionized state was North Carolina, at 3.1% — a number that may rise next year with UFCW’s successful unionization of the 5,500-worker Smithfield pork products plant in Tar Heel.

* Women are catching up in union ranks: 13.3% of men are unionists, compared to 11.3% of women.  “The gap between their rates has narrowed considerably since 1983, when the rate for men was about 10 percentage points higher than the rate for women.  Between 1983 and 2009, the union membership rate for men declined by 11.4 percentage points, while the rate for women declined by 3.3 percentage points,” BLS said.  Last year, 43.9% of all unionists were women.

* Several states had notable changes in union numbers, density, or both.  California’s loss of density (-1.2% to 17.2%) and numbers (-287,000, to 2.45 million) came in a state that lost almost 600,000 workers in one year.  Indiana’s density declined from 12.4% in 2008 to 10.6% in 2009.  Indiana unions lost 72,000 members, to 277,000.

Michigan’s union density stayed the same, 18.8%, even though 61,000 people left union rolls there, due to the auto industry crash.  The recession appeared in Michigan’s overall workforce, down by 300,000 in one year.  The same thing happened in Ohio.  Missouri lost 51,000 unionists — more car plants closed — to 234,000, and its union density declined from 11.2% to 9.4%.  Minnesota lost 30,000 unionists, matching the overall decline in its workforce, and union density dropped from 17% to 15.1%.

Conversely, Illinois gained 12,000 union members, to 951,000, and its density jumped by almost one full percentage point, to 17.5%.  But the biggest absolute increases in union numbers from 2008 to 2009 were in the South: Texas (+59,000, to 508,000), Georgia (+26,000, to 177,000), Virginia (+20,000, to 166,000) and Louisiana (+19,000, to 99,000).  Union densities in those states still were all under 6%.

And union numbers are still skewed to the Northeast and Midwest.  California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey, in that order and combined, accounted for just under half of all union members nationwide.