The number of workers in unions in 2013 rose by 162,000, with the increase of 281,000 workers in private-sector unions offset by the decrease of 118,000 public-sector union members, according to figures released this morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
There were strong gains in construction and manufacturing, against a background of strike actions by low-wage workers in the private sector. But destructive, politically motivated layoffs of public-sector workers continued to hurt overall public-sector union membership, leaving the total percentage of the workforce that is unionized virtually unchanged. Said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:
Wall Street’s Great Recession cost millions of America’s workers their jobs and pushed already depressed wages down even further. But in 2013, America’s workers pushed back. At the same time, these numbers show that as unorganized workers have taken up the fight for their right to a voice on the job, union employers are hiring—creating good jobs our economy desperately needs.
Workers in the public sector continued to bear the brunt of the continuing economic crisis, weak labor laws and political assaults on their rights on the job. In Wisconsin, political attacks on public-sector workers’ right to collectively bargain resulted in bargaining coverage falling. Broadly, federal, state and local governments continued to lay off needed public workers, leading to an overall loss of 118,000 union members.
Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said the figures again show that union members continue to have higher weekly median earnings than nonunion workers—$950 a week compared to $750 a week. He said union members also have greater access to health care, retirement savings plans, sick and vacation leave than workers who don't have a union on the job.
Workers' ability to form unions and engage in collective bargaining has been a cornerstone of a strong middle class. The decline in union membership over the last few decades has contributed to more working families struggling to get by. When workers have a seat at the table, they are better able to bargain for their fair share of the value they helped create; and that leads to greater economic security and economic mobility for everyone. As our economy continues to recover and we work to create good jobs, we need to ensure workers can lift their voices to raise wages, reduce inequality and help more people climb ladders of opportunity.
Trumka said that even with the growth of private-sector union memberships, “Make no mistake, the job of rebuilding workers’ bargaining power and raising wages for the 99% has a long way to go.”
Collective action among working people remains the strongest, best force for economic justice in America. We’re building a stronger, more innovative movement to give voice to the values that built this country. From Walmart workers to fast-food workers to home care workers, the rising up of workers’ voices against inequality—both inside and outside of traditional structures—is the story of 2013.
Key findings in the BLS survey include:
- The total number of private-sector union members rose by 281,000, while the total number of public-sector union members fell by about 118,000. There are now more private-sector union members than public-sector members.
- Industries with the biggest growth include construction (up 95,000), hospitals and transportation equipment manufacturing.
- Sectors hit hardest include social assistance and administration and support services.
- Union membership rates did not change in any meaningful way by gender: 10.5% of women and 11.9% of men were in unions.
- States with the largest union membership rate growth include: Alabama (1.5 percentage points), Nebraska (1.3 points), Tennessee (1.3 points), Kentucky (1.2 points), New York (1.2 points), Illinois (1.2 points) and Wisconsin (1.1 points).
- States with the largest union membership rate declines include: Louisiana (-1.9 percentage points), Oregon (-1.8 points), Utah (-1.3 points), Wyoming (-1.0 points), New Hampshire (-0.9 points), Montana (-0.9 points) and Texas (-0.9 points).