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Department & Division News

The Status of Unions in 2016

(This article first appeared in the Sept-Oct 2017 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

By Research & Education Director Joyce Robinson

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that union membership has declined across the United States since the early 1980s.

In 1983, more than a fifth of the nation’s workers were unionized. The union membership rate was 10.7 percent in 2016 and the number of workers belonging to unions was at 14.6 million, a decline of 240,000 from 2015.

Excerpts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ news release “Union Members Summary” are reprinted below.

Findings

  • Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (34.4 percent) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.4 percent).
  • Workers in education, training, and library occupations and in protective service occupations had the highest unionization rates (34.6 percent and 34.5 percent, respectively).
  • Men continued to have a slightly higher union membership rate (11.2 percent) than women (10.2 percent).
  • Black workers were more likely to be union members than were White, Asian, or Hispanic workers.
  • By age, union membership rates continued to be highest among workers ages 45 to 64. In 2016, 13.3 percent of workers ages 45 to 54 and ages 55 to 64 were union members.
  • The union membership rate was 11.8 percent for full-time workers, more than twice the rate for part-time workers at 5.7 percent.
  • Among states, New York continued to have the highest union membership rate (23.6 percent), while South Carolina continued to have the lowest (1.6 percent).

Industry and Occupation of Union Members

  • Within the public sector, the union membership rate was highest for local government (40.3 percent), which includes employees in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters.
  • In the private sector, industries with high unionization rates included utilities (21.5 percent), transportation and warehousing (18.4 percent), telecommunications (14.6 percent), construction (13.9 percent), and educational services (12.3 percent).
  • Low unionization rates occurred in finance (1.2 percent), agriculture and related industries (1.3 percent), food services and drinking places (1.6 percent), and professional and technical services (1.6 percent).

Earnings

Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $1,004 in 2016, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $802. In addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, this earnings difference reflects a variety of influences, including variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, age, firm size, or geographic region.

Union Membership by State

  • In 2016, 27 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 10.7 percent, while 23 states had rates above it. Union membership rates decreased in 31 states and the District of Columbia, increased in 16 states, and was unchanged in 3 states.
  • Nine states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2016, with South Carolina having the lowest rate (1.6 percent). The next lowest rates were in North Carolina (3.0 percent), Arkansas (3.9 percent), and Georgia (3.9 percent). New York was the only state with a union membership rate over 20.0 percent in 2016 at 23.6 percent.
  • The largest numbers of union members lived in California (2.6 million) and New York (1.9 million). Over half of the 14.6 million union members in the U.S. lived in just 7 states (California, 2.6 million; New York, 1.9 million; Illinois, 0.8 million; Pennsylvania, 0.7 million; and Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio, 0.6 million each), though these states accounted for only about one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.