Finance Globe

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Union Jobs Pay Better

The percentage of employees who were members of a union was 12.3% in 2009, virtually unchanged from the rate of 12.4% in 2008, the Labor Department's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported today.

The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 771,000 to 15.3 million, largely reflecting the drop in employment due to the recession. As a comparison, in 1983 - the first year that comparison data was available - the rate of union membership was 20.1% and there were 17.7 million union workers.

Following the report, Labor Secretary Hilda L. Solis said in a statement, "The data also show the median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary union members were $908 per week, compared to $710 for workers not represented by unions. Union members earn 28 percent more than their non-union counterparts. When coupled with data showing that union members have access to better health care, retirement and leave benefits, these numbers make it clear that union jobs are good jobs."

The BLS report shows that public sector employees had a much higher rate of union membership at 37.2% than private sector employees at 7.4%. Of workers that were in unions, there were 7.9 million public sector employees and 7.4 million in private sector employees, but five times more wage and salary workers in the private sector overall.

Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest rate of unionization at 43.3%. This group includes workers in highly unionized occupations, such as teacher, police officers, and fire fighters.

In the private sector, the highest unionization rates were in transportation and utilities at 22.2%, telecommunications at 16%, and construction at 14.5%. The lowest percentage of workers in unions were in farming and related industries at 1.1%, followed by financial activities at 1.8%.

Among occupational groups across both public and private sectors, workers in education, training, and library occupations had the highest rate of unionization at 38.1%. Protective services had the next highest rate at 35.6%. The lowest unionization rates were in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations at 2.8% and sales jobs at 3.1%.

The rate of union membership was higher for men at 13.3% than women at 11.3%. Older workers were much more likely to be in a union, with a 16.6% membership rate for workers age 55 to 64, compared to a rate of 4.7% for 16 to 24 year olds.

The percentage of workers in unions varies widely by region. All states in the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions reported union membership rates above the national average, and all states in the East South Central and West South Central divisions had rates below it.

Among states, New York had the highest union membership rate at 25.2%, followed by Hawaii at 23.5%, Alaska at 22.3%, and Washington at 20.2%. North Carolina had the lowest rate at 3.1%, followed by Arkansas at 4.2%, South Carolina at 4.5%, Georgia at 4.6%, Virginia at 4.7%, and Mississippi at 4.8%. 29 states and the District of Colombia had union membership rates lower than the national average of 12.3%, 20 states had a higher rate, and 1 state had the same rate.

Of the 15.3 million union members in the U.S., about half of them lived in just six states - 2.5 million in California, 2 million in New York, 1 million in Illinois, .8 million in Pennsylvania, and .7 million each in Michigan and New Jersey. These six states account for only one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.

To further illustrate the imbalance of union workers among states, consider that Texas has 1.9 million more wage and salary employees than New York, but only one-fourth as many union workers.

Another example can be found by comparing Tennessee and Hawaii which both have just over 120,000 union workers, but Hawaii's employment level at 526,000 is less than a quarter of the number of employees as Tennessee which has 2.4 million.

Solis said, "As workers across the country have seen their real and nominal wages decline as a result of the recession, these numbers show a need for Congress to pass legislation to level the playing field to enable more American workers to access the benefits of union membership. This report makes clear why the administration supports the Employee Free Choice Act."

The data for the annual report was collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households that obtain information on employment and unemployment among the nation's population age 16 and over.

U.S. Department of Labor
Bureau of Labor Statistics
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Thursday, 02 February 2023

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