Practice Areas

Union Membership Statistics

September 2014

By: Walter J. Liszka, Esq.

There is a very old adage that "numbers can't lie, but liars can figure" and that adage may be applicable to the most recent statistics issued by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics with regard to union membership. Those "union statistics" indicate that the union membership rate - the percentage of wage and salary workers who were members of the union for 2013 - remains at 11.3%, the same percentage as existed in 2012. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions remains at 14.5% but is substantially down from 1983, the first year in which comparable union data was available which established the figure in 1983 at 20.1%.

There are some interesting highlights with regard to the 2013 data:

  • Public sector workers have a union membership rate of 35.3% which is five times higher than that of private sector workers at 6.7%.
  • Workers in education, training, and library occupations and in protective service occupations have the highest unionized rate at 35.3%.
  • Men have a higher union membership rate of 11.9% than women at 10.5% even though this gap has considerably narrowed since 1983 when the rates for men were 24.7% and women were 14.6%.
  • Among major race and ethnicity groups, African American workers had the highest union membership rate at 13.6% while Caucasians are 11%, Asian 9.4%, and Hispanic 9.4%.
  • Union membership rates are the highest among workers between the ages of 45-64, at 14% for those ages between 45-54 and between the ages of 55-64, 14.3%.
  • State union membership levels are also an interesting statistic. Over half of the 14.5 million union members residing in the United States lived in seven states (California - 2.4 million; New York - 2 million; Illinois - 0.9 million; Pennsylvania - 0.7 million; and Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio - 0.6 million each). Texas has approximately one-fourth (¼) as many union members as in New York despite having a larger number of wage and salary employees, 4.7 million in Texas versus 2 million in New York.

In 2013, 7.2 million employees in the public sector belonged to unions with the highest percentage in the public sector being for local government employees (40.8%) which include employees employed as teachers, police officers, and firefighters. In the private sector, industries with the highest unionization rate include utilities (25.6%); transportation and warehousing (19.6%); telecommunications (14.4%); and construction (14.1%). The lowest unionization rates occur in agriculture and related industries (1%); finance (1%); and food service and related industries (1.3%). Among occupational groups, the highest unionized rates are in education, training, and library operations and protective service (35.3% in each). Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (2.1%) in sales and related occupations (2.9%) were the lowest unionization rates.

Obviously, unions continue to be in a difficult situation in selling their product, especially in the private sector with the unionization rate of 6.7% but, based on developments in the Obama administration, this may be coming to a radical halt and change. For more information with regard to the "potential changes in the future," please see the article, Obama is Labor's Winning Hand .

Questions? Contact Walter J. Liszka, Managing Shareholder of Wessels Sherman's Chicago office at (312) 629-9300 or by email at waliszka@wesselssherman.com .