Union Membership Fairly Steady in 2018

The yearly report on union membership from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed very little change in 2018.

According to the agency’s report, issued Jan. 18, membership declined slightly from 2017 to 2018, to a total number of 14.744 million. That’s a decrease of 73,000; union density in 2018 was 10.5 percent.

The report again reinforced that union members usually earn more money than their unrepresented counterparts. Data from the BLS report shows that in 2018, the median union worker earned $1,051 per week, compared to $860 for the median non-unionist. (The median is the point where half of workers are above and half below.)

Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO issued a press statement in advance of the report that read in part: “Here’s what the numbers alone won’t tell you: 2018 was one of the most substantial years for collective action in American history. The following are some significant ways workers are standing together to improve our workplaces and communities, not included in today’s report:

  • Tens of thousands of teachers going on strike for better pay and stronger schools in red and blue states, including more than 30,000 currently striking in Los Angeles (the teachers subsequently won numerous gains and voted to return to work).

  • Google workers worldwide walking out for an end to workplace sexual harassment and a voice on the job.

  • UNITE HERE hotel workers taking on Marriott, the most profitable hotel chain in the world, and winning higher wages, a safe work environment and a say on how technology is deployed.

  • And, working people electing pro-worker candidates from coast to coast, including more than 950 union members.

  • Private-sector union membership is up, despite the fact that Taft-Hartley, a labor law rigged to embolden anti-worker employers, has been on the books for more than 70 years. Workers from Boeing to JetBlue to Harvard University won union recognition in 2018. And 60 million workers – the population of New York and California combined – would vote to join a union today if given the chance.

  • Public sector union membership essentially held steady, despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, the case pundits predicted would be the labor movement’s death knell. In fact, some public sector unions saw membership growth in 2018. Shortly after Janus was decided, the people of Missouri overturned “right to work” by 2-1, the first-ever state to repeal this anti-worker law by popular vote.

  • In the face of unprecedented attacks, the labor movement continues to show tremendous resilience. Public approval of unions is soaring. And new organizing campaigns in non-union workplaces are gaining steam. Give working people a level playing field to join and form unions and there will be a dramatic spike in membership by the time the 2019 BLS numbers are released.”

Additionally, Mark Gruenberg of Press Associates pointed out, “The agency reported that a slight majority of union members were in the private sector, 7.577 million, compared to 7.167 million in the public sector. The public sector was more heavily unionized, with one of every three workers – state and local government workers, teachers, fire fighters, and federal workers – unionized, compared to one of every 16 (6.4 percent) in the private sector. Teachers and protective services, each with even higher percentages, led the way.”

As usual, union members were concentrated in the Northeast, the Great Lakes and the Pacific Coast states. The most union-dense states last year were Hawaii (23.1 percent), New York (22.3 percent), Washington (19.8 percent), Alaska (18.5 percent) and Rhode Island (17.5 percent).

The biggest union numbers BLS calculated were in California (2.405 million, down 87,000 and with 14.7 percent density), New York (1.872 million, down 145,000, 22.3 percent), Illinois (786,000, down 86,000, 13.8 percent), Pennsylvania (701,000, up 36,000, 12.6 percent), Michigan (625,000, down 33,000, 14.5 percent), Ohio (639,000, up 4,000, 12.6 percent) and Washington (649,000, up 61,000, 19.8 percent).

According to Gruenberg, “Washington was the biggest numerical gainer, but BLS calculated many of the other gains were in the least-unionized area, the South. Florida (plus 38,000), Georgia and Alabama (plus 28,000 each), Louisiana (plus 11,000) and South Carolina (plus 3,000) all added union members.”