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As Union Membership Declines, So Do Wages - Despite Job Growth

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the total number of union members fell by 400,000 last year, to 14.3 million, even though the nation's overall employment rose by 2.4 million - the unionization rate to its lowest level in close to a century. among full-time workers, union members had median weekly earnings of $943 last year (about $49,000 annually), compared with $742 (about $38,600 annually), for comparable nonunion workers.

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Share of the Work Force in a Union Falls to a 97-Year Low, 11.3%

By Steven Greenhouse

January 23, 2013
New York Times

The long decline in the number of American workers belonging to labor unions accelerated sharply last year, according to data reported on Wednesday, sending the unionization rate to its lowest level in close to a century.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics said the total number of union members fell by 400,000 last year, to 14.3 million, even though the nation's overall employment rose by 2.4 million. The percentage of workers in unions fell to 11.3 percent, down from 11.8 percent in 2011, the bureau found in its annual report on union membership. That brought unionization to its lowest level since 1916, when it was 11.2 percent, according to a study by two Rutgers economists, Leo Troy and Neil Sheflin.

Labor specialists cited several reasons for the steep one-year decline in union membership. Among the factors were new laws that rolled back the power of unions in Wisconsin, Indiana and other states, the continued expansion by manufacturers like Boeing and Volkswagen in nonunion states and the growth of sectors like retail and restaurants, where unions have little presence...

"Our labor laws do not favor unions organizing," Mr. Spriggs (the A.F.L.- C.I.O.'s chief economist) said. "It would be one thing to say we're bellyaching, but the Republican Party is really being vindictive against unions, and employers campaign very hard against workers unionizing."...

According to the report, North Carolina has the lowest unionization rate, 2.9 percent, followed by Arkansas, at 3.2 percent. New York had the highest unionization rate, 23.2 percent, with Alaska second, at 22.4 percent.

The bureau said that among full-time workers, union members had median weekly earnings of $943 last year (about $49,000 annually), compared with $742 (about $38,600 annually), for comparable nonunion workers.

READ MORE - Full story at: New York Times

Richard Trumka Reacts to 2012 BLS Numbers on Union Membership

by Jackie Tortora

January 23, 2013
AFL-CIO Now

The union membership rate was 11.3% in 2012, down from 11.8% in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which released updated figures today. This decrease in union membership highlights the painful fact that people are working harder but are making less and less. 

One area that saw a significant loss was in the public sector. There are nearly 400,000 fewer union members, from teachers in the classroom to police and firefighters that keep us safe. In manufacturing, the jobs that have returned so far are largely low-wage, nonunion jobs.

The BLS union density numbers reflect the political and ideological assaults on workers' rights that peaked over the past two years. These attacks on working people resulted in membership losses, stagnant wages and increasing income inequality. 

Still, the number of union members is increasing in growing sectors of the economy, and union membership is also rising among nonwhite workers, including Hispanics and Asians, who are beginning to show meaningful job growth following the economic downturn. There were gains in business and professional services, which includes waste services.

Looking at the states, there were increases in union membership in Texas, Georgia, Nevada and North Carolina and continued growth in California. Membership is also up in Oklahoma.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:

Working women and men urgently need a voice on the job today, but the sad truth is that it has become more difficult for them to have one, as today's figures on union membership demonstrate.

Union membership impacts every other economic outcome that matters to all workers - falling wages, rising health care costs, home foreclosures, the loss of manufacturing jobs and disappearing retirement benefits. Collective action through unions remains the single best way for working people to effect change. But our still-struggling economy, weak laws and political as well as ideological assaults have taken a toll on union membership, and in the process have also imperiled economic security and good, middle class jobs.

What will define the labor movement of the future, however, is not assaults or the changing economy, but how working people come together to respond to them. We enter 2013 with our eyes open and understand that these challenges offer real opportunities for working people to reshape the future. Working families are building community alliances, engaging with young workers and immigrants, fighting right-wing politicians and organizing in innovative ways. From taxi workers to teachers to nurses to Wal-Mart workers to port workers to freelance writers, working Americans are committed to building a new movement for the future and to creating good jobs and an economy that works for all.

Women Account for 72 Percent of the Decline In Union Membership from 2011 to 2012

by Katherine Gallagher Robbins, Senior Policy Analyst

January 23, 2013
National Women's Law Center

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released new data on union membership for 2012. We did some number-crunching which shows that while unions are really important to women, their membership is dropping.

What's going on with women and unions?

  •    Between 2011 and 2012 the number of union members dropped by 398,000. Women were less than half (46 percent) of union members in 2011 - but they accounted for 72 percent of the decline.
  •    Men are more likely than women to be members of unions. The gap between men's and women's union membership has narrowed over time. Last year it grew, for the first time since 2008, by 25 percent. Women's rate of union membership (11.2 percent) was 1.2 percentage points lower than men's (12.4 percent) in 2011. In 2012, women's rate (10.5 percent) was 1.5 percentage points lower than men's (12.0 percent).

Why does this matter?

  •    Union membership is critical for women's wage equality. Among union members, the typical full-time woman worker has weekly earnings that are 88 percent of the typical man's. Among workers not represented by unions, this figure is 81 percent.

Why is it happening?

  •    It's likely that women's concentration in public sector jobs (women comprised 57 percent of the public sector workforce in 2012) was a key factor in this union membership decline.
  •    The rate of union membership in the public sector workforce in 2012 was more than five times higher than in the private sector (35.9 percent as compared to 6.6 percent). Public sector workers comprise just over half (51 percent) of union members in 2011, but they accounted for 59 percent of the declines in union membership between 2011 and 2012.

A few wonky data details: BLS data on union membership include all employed wage and salary workers 16 and older. Figures are 2011 and 2012 annual averages. Data are not available broken down by gender and sector. Data on the wage gap for union members differ slightly from the often-used measure of median annual earnings for full-time, year-round workers. Using this figure, the typical woman makes 77 percent of what the typical man makes.