US union membership down in private sector, stable in public sector
The recession has hit US unions, in the same way as it has in other developed nations. But while union membership has fallen faster in the private sector than employment, union density has risen in the public sector. And for the first time ever in the US there are now more trade unionists in the public than private sector. The gains of last year have been more than wiped out by the recession, strengthening the call for an Employee Free Choice Act to make joining a union less of a career-killer.
The figures come from the annual Bureau of Labour Statistics report. It shows that in 2009, union membership in the private sector fell by 771,000 and was stable in the public sector, wiping out the growth in union membership in 2008 of 428,000. Because unionisation in the private sector was highest in industries like manufacturing and construction (the hardest hit by the recession), unionisation rates fell from 7.6% to 7.2%.
But in the public sector, the jobs lost in 2009 were predominantly non-union ones, so while membership was static, density increased from 36.8% to 37.4%: suggesting perhaps that being in a union makes you safer from redundancy (although it may be about differential job loss in sub-sectors). The wages of union members were on average $200 a week higher than non-union members.
There are now 15.3 million union members in the US, compared with 17.7 million in 1983 when this data series started – but growth in the labour market has resulted in density falling from 20.1% to 13.2%.
There were minor changes in the unionisation rate of different ethnic groups, with only Asians seeing an increase, although they are still less likely to join than the average worker.
AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka said:
“This is about what’s happening to real wage earners across the country, not just unions or union membership. It matters to us all that we have a strong middle class to build a strong economy. These numbers cry out for urgent, bold action by our leaders to invest in America and create good jobs.”
Thanks to the ever-vigilant John Logan at UC Berkeley for tipping me off.