Union Membership Rose 219,000 in 2015

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Union Membership Rose 219,000 in 2015

Union membership nationwide rose by 219,000 in 2015 compared to 2014, a Bureau of Labor Statistics survey reported. BLS calculated that unions had 14.795 million members last year and that their share of the U.S. workforce stayed unchanged at 11.1 percent.

The survey showed unionists still concentrate in the Northeast, the Great Lakes and the Pacific Coast, and are fewest in the anti-union South. The most union-heavy states are New York and Hawaii. And it showed female union workers are close to pay parity with union men.

Membership increases occurred even as unions battle right wing politicians and their business backers over the right to organize, union dues and other issues. The right wing triumphs were most obvious in a sharp decline in one state, Wisconsin.

Public workers are still five times more likely to be unionized (35.2 percent) than private-sector workers (6.7 percent), with teachers and public safety workers leading the way. Public and private densities changed little from 2014. The public sector added 23,000 unionists, to 7.241 million last year, slightly fewer than the 7.554 million private-sector unionists.

And unionists widened their salary edge over their union colleagues: The median weekly wage for unionists -- the point where half are above and half below -- was $204 higher than for non-union workers.

The median weekly wage for union women was $928, up $24 in a year. It was 92.2 percent of the union men’s median ($1,017, up $2). The median weekly wage for non-union women last year was $697, up $10. It was 80.2 percent of the men’s median ($869, up $29).

Washington, D.C. and 24 states saw increases in union density last year, while 23 states saw declines. The other three states had no change. Membership is another matter.

The biggest jumps were in Florida (+91,000), New York and North Carolina (+47,000), BLS calculated. North Carolina’s increase was so large that union numbers rose by 60 percent there, pulling it out of last place among states. Rabidly anti-union South Carolina is now last. 

But that still left unionists concentrated in California (2,486 million, up 14,000), New York (2.038 million, up 58,000), Illinois (847,000, up 16,000), Pennsylvania (747,000, up 44,000), Ohio (606,000, down 9,000), Michigan (621,000, up 36,000) and New Jersey (596,000, down 39,000). Those seven states alone accounted for approximately half of all union members. In each of them, at least one of every eight workers was an unionist last year.

Illinois: Illinois' rise of 16,000 union members came despite Right Wing GOP Gov.
Bruce Rauner's anti-union campaign there. Density rose from 15.1 percent to 15.2 percent.  

Michigan: Michigan's jump in union numbers reflected the continuing recovery of the auto industry. Union density rose from 14.5 percent in 2014 to 15.2 percent last year.

Minnesota: Minnesota added 13,000 unionists last year, to 363,000, BLS calculated. The survey may not reflect recent wins among home health care workers there. Density stayed constant, at 14.2 percent.

Missouri and Kansas: Missouri unions added both numbers and density in 2014. The Show-Me State had 230,000 unionists last year (8.8 percent), up from 214,000 (8.4 percent). The number in Kansas jumped from 95,000 (7.4 percent) in 2014 to 110,000 last year (8.7 percent).

Ohio: Union density dropped from 12.4 percent in 2014 to 12.3 percent last year, as the numbers declined by 9,000, to 606,000.

Oregon: Density and numbers both dropped, from 243,000 unionists (15.6 percent) in 2014 to 235,000 last year (14.8 percent).

Besides North Carolina and Florida, among the Southern states, union numbers and density also rose in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Virginia. And numbers (+7,000, to 35,000) and density (+1.8 percent, to 10.4 percent) rose in D.C.

Wisconsin saw the largest decrease in membership, by far, as GOP Gov. Scott Walker's anti-worker anti-union program fully kicked in.  His 2011 Act 10 stripped public unions of bar-gaining rights, and he later pushed through a right to work law. Wisconsin lost 83,000 unionists in one year, dropping to 223,000. Density dropped from 12.6 percent to 8.3 percent.

 African-Americans were more likely to be unionists than members of other racial groups, with one of every seven (13.6 percent) holding union cards. Their numbers rose by 149,000, to 2.246 million. One of every nine white workers (10.8 percent) was an unionist last year, compared to one of every 11 Latinos and one of every 10 Asian-Americans.

And unions are still having trouble attracting young workers. There were 800,000 unionists aged 16-24 last year (4.4 percent of all such workers), down 4,000 and 0.1 percent from the year before, the BLS survey said.

The union edge in pay over non-unionists narrowed slightly. The median weekly wage of a private-sector unionist last year was $917, up $10 from the year before. The median for non-union private sector workers rose by $12, to $765. Government unionists saw a $15 median weekly pay hike, to $1,029, while non-union government workers got a median raise of $28, to $878.                                                 


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