U.S. Union Membership, Both Rate and Number, Continues Dropping

Huge gap in number between older workers and younger


"Is there anything in the Endangered Species Act we can use?"

According to figures released today by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership rates have dropped nearly in half over the past 30 years, plunging from 20.1 percent in 1983 to 11.3 percent in 2012.

The total number of unionized workers has dropped from 17.7 million workers to 14.4 million workers.

In other details that probably don't come as much of a surprise:

  • Public sector employees had the highest rate of union membership: 35.9 percent. By comparison, private sector employees saw a 6.6 percent unionization rate.
  • Among the public sector employees, local government workers (like teachers and police officers) had the highest unionization rate, 41.7 percent.
  • Union membership rates are much, much higher among those aged 55-64 (14.9 percent) than among the young (4.2 percent). Puts that pension protectionism into perspective, doesn't it?
  • About 1.6 million workers are covered by union contracts without being actual members of the unions. That's really not very many people and something to keep in mind when union representatives complain about the "free rider" issue with right-to-work laws. It will be interesting to see if that number increases if these laws catch on.
  • Median weekly earnings by union workers were about $200 higher than non-unionized counterparts. Location may play a role in addition to collective bargaining, though.
  • About half of unionized employees live in just seven U.S. States: California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey. These seven states also coincidentally pop up frequently in coverage reachable via our "state fiscal crisis" tag.

Read the whole report here (pdf).

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  1. These seven state also coincidentally pop up frequently our “state fiscal crisis” tag.


    1. 7 states that have the majority of unionization just happen to have lots of reporting in Reason, on their fiscal crises.

      Could be coincidence, could be not. Correlation, causation, yada yada.

      1. Sorry, I reworded that. I rewrote that sentence a couple of times for clarity and obviously failed.

        1. I understood – hell, if you read my comments, you understand that I speak “unclear” quite fluently.

          1. Your “unclear” is still an order of magnitude more coherent than Tony or Shrike.

  2. It will be interesting to see if this trend reverses now that the unions have seized control of the NLRB and can tilt the playing field (even more). Have a friendly AG to keep those annoying and embarrassing criminal investigations to a minimum can’t hurt, either.

    1. NLRB just releaased a throoughly bullshit couple of decisions – can’t be fired for complaining about the boss on “social media”, can be fired for sharing “political” views.

      Huh? Oh, if those political views are whack job eliminationist right wing whacko views…THAT would make sense. Liberal views would fall under “bitching about your boss.”

      Got it.

      NLRB is absolutely the FIRST admin eliminated when I become President.

    2. R C,

      The problem for private sector unions is that they almost to a one act as millstones around the neck of the businesses they are involved with – they reduce in size or go BK, so NLRB aside, the parasite kills the host too frequently to grow the number of (private sector) parasites. Now the public sector…oy.

  3. Median weekly earnings by union workers were about $200 higher than non-unionized counterparts.

    Is that before or after they pay their dues?

    1. Would be about the same either way. Most dues I’ve seen are on the order of a couple hours wages per month – so ~$55-$70 for your average UAW hack, less for the grocery workers.

      And that’s a month, not weekly. Weekly…$13, $14, $15. Meh

      If you look at the absolute numbers, though, it’s astounding for the private sector unions. They’re a shell of their former selves, and way down on fundage from dues. Hence the blind, white rage in MI – for example – over right to work. Which will do nothing much in the aggregate….except reduce the UAW/AFSCME war chests….PWND!

  4. Bummer.

    1. You know, I may have the kind of tackle you normal find swinging between the legs of a Grand National Champion, but I’m not completely stupid. And I have the kind of feeling that you really aren’t bummed.

      /Lord Flashard off

  5. Randi Weingarten was on Varney this morning. What a lying, verminous shitbag. Her body language was exactly what I imagine a professional jailhouse snitch would be like on the witness stand.

    They talked about school shootings, and whether the noble intellectuals of the teacher caste should dirty their lily white hands by taking responsibility for preserving their own lives, and she turned it into a recitation of Party Truths. She even said the CT shooter had a weapon which fired TEN BULLETS A SECOND!!!!! and none of those dimwits called her on it.

    Thirty seconds later Varney said something which sounded pretty innocuous to me, and she immediately went into FACTCHECKER SMASH mode.

    I wonder what the teachers’ unions would say if school districts started offering an extra hundred bucks per week to teachers (with appropriate training and Certificate of Competence, to be sure) willing to provide ad hoc security services in addition to their traditional classroom duties.

  6. Michigan’s new law might make it drop out of this top 7 list. The public unions here in CA are extremely coddled. You get cops, muni workers, nurses routinely making over $200k in SF, and then they get 90% to 100% of their final year salary as pension. I’ve heard of something called chief’s disease which makes your pension tax free (you claim workplace stress, injury). We have pension spiking, overtime abuse, vacation accrual abuse, you name it. And you just can’t fire any government worker. The blurb for supporting prop A in San Mateo County (0.5% sales tax increase) said that times are so hard they had to lay off a whopping 400 workers. When prop 30 and other propositions passed, a newspaper article in the San Mateo Daily Journal appeared saying that the tax increases are not enough and schools are already looking at slashing budgets further. Fear. There are no public servants any more; there are only public masters, who are the masters of us, the slave holders of us.

  7. About half of unionized employees live in just seven U.S. States: California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and New Jersey.

    Given that 36% of the country’s population is in those same seven states, I’m not sure the fact half of the union employees live is a significant statistic.

    1. The 14% discrepancy means nothing to you?

        1. Yes, for example, you can’t reverse your conditionals. For example you can’t assume that the probablity that a union employee lives in PA is equivalent to the probability that an employee in PA is in a union, which is what Shackford is doing.

      1. Alaska (22.4% of workers unionized) has a much higher rate of unionization than Pennsylvania (13.5% of workers unioned). If you’re going to draw a link between unionization and state fiscal issues, you need to actual pull the states with the most union employees relative to their workforces. All Shackford is really doing is pointing out that the most heavily populated states have more people in them.

  8. PA’s GOP gov is going full tilt against unions, but not on the sexy, hot button issues that gets unions all cranky:

    We’re privatizing the state lottery, which is a few hundred union jobs on the line

    Pension reform will annoy the public sector unions, but it’s necessary.

    we may finally privatize the state liquor system, which is massively unionized, although this is a 1-5 chance because even though the legislature is R majority, religious conservative Rs join the Ds (who vote no as a bloc) to oppose privatization.

  9. Good. Fuck unions, and double-fuck public-sector unions.

  10. As noted in yesterday’s daily links, Wisconsin’s union law was recently upheld, overturning the lower court decision that had delayed it’s implementation.

    Everyone seems to have missed it. Although widely expected, it’s the last shot in the war. The law will go into effect, people will not have dues automatically deducted from their checks, local governments will have more bargaining power. It’s over.

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