Labor Department survey underscores perpetual slide of trades’ unionization rate

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show the percentage of U.S. construction workers belonging to unions dropped from 13.9 in 2014 to 13.2 last year. The figures are based on rank-and-file totals of 968,000 and 940,000 against 2014 and 2015 workforces, respectively, of 6.97 million and 7.1 million. The total percentage of construction workers represented by unions—local or association members plus workers whose jobs are covered by a union contract—was 14.7 and 14.0 for 2014 and 2015.

Across U.S. industries, BLS finds, the union membership rate held at 11.1 percent for the two years. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.8 million in 2015, contrasts with 17.7 million, or 20.1 percent of total U.S. workforce in 1983, the first year for which comparable Bureau union data are available. Union membership data are collected as part of the monthly Current Population Survey, a sample of about 60,000 eligible households yielding information on employment and unemployment among the nation’s civilian non-institutional population age 16 and over. Among 2015 data highlights:

  • New York continued to have the highest union membership rate (24.7 percent); South Carolina the lowest (2.1 percent). Other states with rates below 5 percent are North Carolina (3.0 percent), Utah (3.9 percent), Georgia (4.0 percent), and Texas (4.5 percent). New York and Hawaii (20.4 percent) are the only states with union membership rates north of 20 percent.
  • The largest numbers of union members lived in California (2.5 million) and New York (2.0 million). Roughly half of the 14.8 million union members in the U.S. lived in those and five other states: Illinois (800,000 members); Pennsylvania (700,000); plus, Michigan, Ohio, and New Jersey, (600,000 each). These states only accounted for about one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.
  • Union membership rates continued to be highest among workers ages 45 to 64. In 2015, 13.6 percent of workers ages 45 to 54 and 14.3 percent of those ages 55 to 64 were union members. Men continued to have a slightly higher union membership rate (11.5 percent) than women (10.6 percent). Black workers were more likely to be union members (13.6 percent) than were White (10.8 percent), Asian (9.8 percent), or Hispanic (9.4 percent) workers.
  • Median weekly earnings of nonunion workers ($776) were 79 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($980). The comparisons of earnings are on a broad level, BLS notes, and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences.

In a statement on the BLS Union Members–2015 report, Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez observed, “We are reminded again that the labor movement continues to be one of the most powerful forces for strengthening the middle class and providing economic stability, for members and non-members alike … When a larger percentage of workers belong to unions, the middle class grows and thrives. But research shows that a decline in union membership over roughly the last four decades is responsible for one-third of the growth in wage inequality among men and one-fifth of the growth in wage inequality among women.”