By Tim Murphy
The headline, of course, is that—the union membership rate nationwide in 2019 dropped to 10.3 percent, despite a fairly robust national economy and continued job growth. This is the lowest union membership rate since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) began tracking it in 1983 when the union membership rate was 20.1 percent.
Behind the headline, the BLS report contains some other interesting info (for labor nerds, anyway):
- The union membership rate of public-sector workers (33.6 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.2 percent).
- But the public-sector rate fell just three-tenths of a percent to 33.6 percent in 2019 dispelling predictions—for now—that public employees would abandon their unions in droves after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision in 2018.
- Men continued to have a higher union membership rate (10.8 percent) than women (9.7 percent). However, the gap between their rates has narrowed since 1983, when rates for men and women were 24.7 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively.
- Black workers remained slightly more likely to be union members than white, Asian, or Hispanic workers.
- Hawaii and New York had the highest union membership rates while the Carolinas had the lowest.
- Full-time workers are twice as likely to be union members (11.2 percent) as part-time workers (5.5 percent).
- Over half of the nation’s 14.6 million union members lived in just seven states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Ohio, and Washington). These states account for only about one-third of U.S. workers.
- Union membership rates continued to be highest among workers ages 45 to 64, which doesn’t bode well for labor’s future. Perhaps, in recognition of this, the Communication Workers of America has embarked on a new initiative to organize tech and video game workers.
- The news is not entirely bad for unions on the membership front. 2019 saw unions organize 90,000 more professional workers.
Since 1983, the only time unions were able to boost their percentage of workers in unions was 2007–2008, when the economy was tanking.