The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, January 31, 2014

Union membership rises a bit in Michigan, U.S.

By The Building Tradesman

(By Mark Gruenberg, PAI Staff Writer) 

WASHINGTON (PAI)—Union membership in the U.S. rose by 162,000 in 2013, to 14.528 million, the Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated, but the union share of the nation’s workers stayed unchanged at 11.3 percent.

Public workers were more than five times as likely to be unionized – 35.3 percent — as private-sector workers.  Unionists’ share of the private sector workforce was 6.7 percent last year, a low ratio unseen since the pre-labor law era of the Roaring 20s.  The private sector employed 7.31 million unionists last year, 100,000 more than in the public sector.  In 2012, the public sector had edged ahead.

But the declining share of unionized private sector workers is important because when one private workplace is unionized – and its workers get better wages and benefits – its competitors often must match it.

Despite Michigan’s newly minted anti-union right-to-work law, the number of unionized workers in our state rose from 629,000 in 2012 to 633,000 in 2013. However, the percentage of unionized workers fell from 16.6 percent in 2012 to 16.3 percent in 2013 because the state had a small increase in the overall number of workers.

Larry Mishel, director of the Economic Policy Institute, said that private-sector unionists in the U.S. rose in construction and manufacturing, two of the more-unionized sectors of the workforce, accounting for the entire increase in union numbers.

But the share of public sector workers whom contracts cover dropped, he pointed out.  That includes the 1.5 million “free riders” who get benefits of contracts but who don’t pay union dues, just fair share fees.  A U.S. Supreme Court case earlier in the week challenged even those fair share fees from the free riders as a violation of the free riders’ free speech rights.

“More than 35 percent of net new jobs” in factories and construction “were covered by collective bargaining agreements,” Mishel said.  “Union coverage has increased in some states that may be unexpected.  For instance, private sector union coverage increased in each of the last two years in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

“Improvements in the private sector have been offset, however, by erosion in the public sector. Between 2012 and 2013 union coverage in the public sector fell from 39.6 percent to 38.7 percent. The starkest change was in Wisconsin, where union coverage in the public sector fell from 53.4% in 2011 to just 37.6% in 2013. This suggests that the erosion of public sector union coverage reflects the new anti-collective bargaining policies implemented in several states,” Mishel added.

And there’s a big wage gap: The median weekly wage for union workers last year was precisely $200 more than that for non-union workers, BLS said: $950 vs. $750.  The median is the point where half the workforce is above it and half below it.

Among the states, once again, unionists were concentrated in the Northeast, the Midwest and the Pacific Coast.  New York (24.4 percent), Alaska (23.1 percent), and Hawaii (22.1 percent) led in union density. Michigan was No. 7, falling from 17.1 percent in 2012 to 16.9 percent in 2013.  California again led in absolute numbers with 2.43 million union members.

Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina and North Carolina (last) were the least unionized states in 2013.