The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

State's unionization rate drops significantly, RTW a likely contributor

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - Labor union membership in Michigan took a significant hit in 2014, dropping to 14.5 percent union workforce penetration from 16.3 percent in 2013. The decline represents a loss of 48,000 workers.

Numbers released Jan. 23 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics also say that nationwide, union density declined 0.2 percent to 11.1 percent in 2014. That drop took place even though unions added 48,000 members in 2014, but the entire U.S. workforce grew even more.

"The drop was on par with the average pace of decline in the union membership rate since the early 1980s," said the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the U.S. union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers. There were a total of 14.6 million union workers last year.

The new numbers mean that Michigan has dropped out of the top 10 in unionization among the states. Our state is now ranked No. 11, falling from No. 7 in 2013. Michigan's right-to-work law, adopted in December 2012, likely was a factor in the state's lower unionization rate. Although, Indiana, also a newly minted right-to-work state, actually saw its unionization rate increase from 9.3 percent in 2013 to 10.7 percent in 2014. Several labor experts have said while right-to-work likely had an effect on Michigan, it's too early to say how much of an effect.

The U.S. construction industry has overall fared positively the past two years. In 2014, union membership in the U.S. construction industry increased by 53,000, for a two-year growth of membership amounting to 148,000. Excluding residential construction and non-production/supervisory employees, the union construction industry is today approaching 40 percent density in the United States.

"The numbers released today by BLS," said Sean McGarvey, President of North America's Building Trades Unions, "are an affirmation of the collective efforts by our unions to re-position the union construction industry as a value-centric, preferred vendor-supplier of skilled craft construction labor services in the United States, and as a trusted community partner that is providing hope in the form of career training opportunities for many disadvantaged people, including and especially women, minorities and military veterans."

Highlights from the 2014 data:

*Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (35.7 percent), more  than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.6 percent). Both numbers were basically unchanged from 2013.

*Men had a higher union membership rate (11.7 percent) than women (10.5 percent) in 2014. 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 (24.6 percent), and North Carolina again had the lowest rate (1.9 percent).

*More than half of all the nation's14.5 million union members lived just seven states: New York, Ohio, Illinois,  Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey and California.

*Median weekly earnings of nonunion workers ($763) were 21 percent less than earnings for workers who were union members ($970). This was not lost on U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez who commented on the release of the unionization numbers.

"Today's report confirms what we've always known: that belonging to a union makes a powerful difference in people's lives, providing greater economic security and helping them punch their ticket to the middle class," Perez said. "The 2014 BLS data show that among wage and salary workers, those in a union have median weekly earnings of $970, compared to $763 for those not in a union. That's not pocket change — it amounts to greater than $10,000 a year more for union members. There is also a smaller gender pay gap for unionized workers — women who are in a union come closer to parity with their male counterparts than do non-union women.

"There is a direct link throughout American history between the strength of the middle class and the vitality of the labor movement. It's not a coincidence. When unions are strong, working families thrive, with wages and productivity rising in tandem. But when the percentage of people represented by unions is low, there is downward pressure on wages and the middle class takes it on the chin."