Union Membership Holds Steady at 11.3 Percent

Union members earn on average $200 per work more

Portrait of smiling professionals and workers with business people in background
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By Sam Hananel

WASHINGTON (AP) - The nation's union membership held steady at 11.3 percent last year, but losses among state and government workers suggest an ominous trend for the future of organized labor.

In a turnabout, there are now slightly more union members working for private firms than in government, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. That reverses a five-year trend.

Although the rate of membership among all workers didn't budge, the overall number of union members grew slightly, rising about 162,000 to nearly 14.5 million.

Unions added about 282,000 new members in the private sector as the economy improved. But that was partly offset by the loss of 118,000 members in the public sector, as state and local governments and public school districts continued to face financial pressure from shrinking budgets.

For decades, the growth of union workers in government has helped compensate for steep losses in manufacturing, construction and other private industries where unions once thrived. The public sector union membership rate of 35 percent remains more than five times higher than that of private sector workers, at 6.7 percent.

But budget pressures have meant layoffs and hiring freezes for many state and local governments. Public unions have also been on the defensive in Wisconsin, Michigan and other states where Republican governors have pushed measures to limit union bargaining rights.

Public sector unions saw their biggest membership losses last year among workers in social assistance programs, administrative and support services, public school teachers and state university employees, according to BLS data.

In Wisconsin, union membership in the public sector fell from 53.4 percent in 2011 to just 37.6 percent in 2013.

"This suggests that the erosion of public sector union coverage reflects the new anti-collective bargaining policies implemented in several states," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute.

The overall rate of union membership has been steadily declining for decades. The share of workers belonging to unions peaked in the 1950s at about 30 percent, and dropped to about 20 percent by 1983.

The modest increase in union ranks last year follows a steep decline in 2012 that saw theunion membership rate sink to its lowest level since the 1930s. The increased unionization among private firms took place largely in construction, health care and the auto industry, as the economy rebounded to create about 2.2 million new jobs.

"It could be that we've hit bottom and things are going to turn around," said John Schmitt, a senior economist with the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington. "The other possibility is that it's just a blip and we'll get back to a slow steady decline in private sector unionization."

Among full-time wage and salary workers, union members in 2013 earned a median salary of $950 a week, compared to $750 for nonunion workers.

New York continued to have the highest union membership rate at 24.4 percent, while North Carolina had the lowest rate at 3 percent.

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ICHABOD

It's about time the government was called on their union busting. Why do you think they want unions out of the picture? No unions= free reign of corporations, plain and simple. So many of you forget the days of no regulations. Sure you can claim equality based on the EEOC and other bullshit gvt. controlled agencies. Face the facts, when the government rules over agencies, then we will get the **** end of the stick. If not for unions, we would all be working 12 hours a day @ straight time, with no benefits. Anyone who trusts the government and decides unions have to go is a plain home talk idiot, even if you are not a union member. Many of you have scabbed off the benefits of the unions and have no idea how ruthless big business can be. Do you morons actually think unions bust companies? All we want is our slice of the pie, not the crumbs.

January 28 2014 at 4:10 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
rattpoison55

I was a union employee at an airport for over a decade. Our supervisor was violating union policies and getting away with it. Union headquarters did not want to be bothered when we called. All they wanted was our union dues.
I gave 2 weeks' notice, got my unused vacation paid out, plus 401k, and I've been chillin' like a villian for almost 4 months now.

January 28 2014 at 2:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
seattlewkr

The only reason employees could not have collective bargaining rights, or a bargained contract, would be to leave them open for abuse.

Just remember, the reason you have weekends off and any benefits at all, are as a result of unions. Non-union members benefit from union contracts, because they normally extended to all of the non-represented employees, also, in may workplaces.

So when you start union bashing, be prepared to do so at a cost to "yourselves."

January 27 2014 at 10:34 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
William

Unions need to go. Companies go under every year because of union pressure and union organizers. All the liberal BS about income inequality yet they champion the efforts of the unions as they eliminate jobs. Typical liberal lunacy, creating a problem then blaming someone else.

January 27 2014 at 9:00 PM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to William's comment
seattlewkr

Unions go? Then so will your own benefits. Not real smart.

January 27 2014 at 10:35 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
Kate

Union-busting has become such a favorite GOP pass time that I am sometimes amazed there are any left. And a great number of people nationwide seem to have completely forgotten (if they ever knew) what the purpose of unions are to begin with.

If it weren't for unions, an enormous number of workers in this country would still be performing crucial work for almost no pay at all.

January 27 2014 at 8:53 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kate's comment
ajgrosm

And if it were not for arrogant, insatiably greedy public employee unions in New Jersey, the most powerful still being the NJEA, and most of these unions being in bed with the politicians, New Jerseyans would not be paying the highest property taxes in the country and paying out in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars in allegedly unused sick and vacation time. Its time to dismantle public employee unions. I have no uise for any unions.

January 27 2014 at 11:36 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to ajgrosm's comment
Kyle

I guess your high school grammar teacher was non-union based on the way you spell.

February 05 2014 at 5:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down
franksroom

Best news I've heard all year -- Solidarity for ever. USWA Retired.

January 27 2014 at 4:54 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to franksroom's comment
Kate

Indeed! I support every union that I can; people have forgotten what they are for.

January 27 2014 at 8:55 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
jchal20826

34 yr. Member of IOUE. Best thing I ever did was join.

January 27 2014 at 11:51 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
claudia

My daughter had to join a union for her work at a grocery store. She makes less than minimum after the union gets their dues. How a person makes more money by belonging to a union isn't always true.

January 27 2014 at 4:51 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to claudia's comment
Kate

She should speak to her shop steward or union rep. Some grocery store unions have contracts with the companies that allow the company to pay very little for a beginning period of time-- after that time is up, they have to pay union negotiated wages that are generally far higher than non-union.

January 27 2014 at 8:58 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
wbearl

After 38 years in the union, the best I can say is it is a necessary evil. I was a member because it was a closed shop, not because I wanted to be or supported it.

As my Father use to say, if a company needs a Union for it's employees it's a lousy company and if an employee needs a Union to keep their job, they are a lousy employee.

January 27 2014 at 2:02 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to wbearl's comment
hsenpfeffer

If you did not like the union you had the choice of going to work for a non union shop. But you did not,. Every scab I ever spoke to said they would not work for a non union shop. Why? Because the non union shops paid less. So, like you, they whined that they did not need the union but in the end were to cheap to take the wage cut they would have faced without it.

January 27 2014 at 4:30 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to hsenpfeffer's comment
Kate

That is not true. Without unions, many employees would be perpetually underpaid and have no benefits or leverage at all. Anyone can keep their job if they work for diddly squat, never ask for anything, and never complain.

My ex boyfriend and his co-workers were on strike for almost two years because their shop refused to pay over time or benefits that were mandated by law, and when they went before the NLRB, they won their case.

They could never have done it as individuals, and the only reason any of them could survive during those years of not working, was that the union did what unions are supposed to do: compensated them for the time they were striking.

January 27 2014 at 9:04 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
vinceautopart

Memebership may be dropping but the prez of our union still keeps getting his new company cars and trips.

January 27 2014 at 2:00 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to vinceautopart's comment
Kate

Are you sure that has anything to do with him being union prez? Unions are held strictly accountable for all the money they take in in dues from members.

You say 'company' cars, but unions are not companies. If he's a higher up employee of his company, then those are perks he's getting through his job, not through the union.

January 27 2014 at 9:07 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Kate's comment
seattlewkr

Kate, that commenter, "vinceautopart" obviously doesn't know what he's talking about. No way! Unions don't sell out their members for lavish the presidents in gifts.

January 27 2014 at 10:39 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down
Hitmanblues

Let truth be known, by the time one pays dues, Cobra etc they make approximately two to three dollars more per hr is all and as to brother hood no they have the good old boy syndrome is all.

January 27 2014 at 1:30 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Hitmanblues's comment
patriot1too

Dues and cobra???? Cobra is awful and no one in their right mind would have a job where they pay cobra. As for dues they are indeed low and does not really offset ones earnings. Its best to join a union to get rid of the good old boy nonsense most companys have.

January 27 2014 at 4:37 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Kate

I think that depends on which union, which trade, and which location. As recently as six years ago my then boyfriend was on strike for almost 24 months, and he and his co-workers were as tight as they came. There was no 'good ole boy' about it-- this was in Maryland and almost half his co-workers on the strike were African American females.

January 27 2014 at 9:11 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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