Unions’ organizing gains outpaced by overall job growth in 2014

BLS LogoThe percentage of workers who are members of labor unions dropped slightly in 2014 both nationally and in Minnesota, while the earnings advantage enjoyed by union members remained significant, according to an annual report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The report, released today, found the number of union members nationwide last year was about 14.6 million, or 11.1 percent of the workforce. Total membership changed little from 2013, but the union membership rate fell from 11.3 percent.

Minnesota continues to have greater union density than the country as a whole. About 360,000 Minnesota workers, 14.2 percent of the state’s workforce, are members of unions, and 20,000 more are represented by unions but opt out of paying dues.

In 2013, Minnesota had 362,000 union members, making up 14.3 percent of the state’s workforce.

Meanwhile, the BLS report confirmed that collective bargaining continues to be an effective tool for raising wages.

Median weekly earnings for nonunion workers nationwide last year were $763, compared to $970 for union workers. In other words, non-union workers earned just 79 percent of what union workers earned in 2014.

The advantage remains particularly significant for union women. According to an analysis of the BLS report by the National Women’s Law Center, the gap between what women and their male counterparts earn for doing the same job is smaller among union members (about 11 cents) than non-union workers (18 cents).

The union advantage held up across most sectors of the economy. Median weekly earnings among hospitality workers ($500 non-union to $636 union), transportation and utility workers ($785 to $1,011), service sector workers ($482 to $762) and public sector workers ($850 to $1,014) showed a significant union advantage.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said the report was not all bad news. The nation’s top labor leader pointed to major organizing wins in the private sector, where union membership grew by 41,000, or 0.6 percent, from 2013 to 2014. Most notably, 14,500 American Airlines workers voted to join the Communications Workers of America last year.

Organizing gains were outpaced, however, by the increase in overall employment, as the economy continued to add jobs in its recovery from the Great Recession. As a result, the share of union members in the workforce fell.

Here’s Trumka’s statement, released today, in response to the BLS report:

Today’s release of the annual union membership numbers by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in this economic recovery, people are either seeking out good union jobs or taking matters into their own hands by forming unions to raise wages and ensure that new jobs are good jobs.

In 2014, workers made great strides and confronted great challenges, including major organizing wins at American Airlines, multiple state legislative victories on the minimum wage and innovative campaigns conducted by carwash workers, among others. We recognize, however, that right-wing billionaires’ extremist politics, a rapacious Wall Street and insufficient advocacy from political leaders thwarted further progress.

In the State of the Union this week, President Obama celebrated the fact that our economy has benefited from 58 consecutive months of job growth and reiterated the need for laws that strengthen unions and give workers a voice. But the most important question is not simply how many jobs we’re creating, but are we creating jobs that raise wages for all? A strong recovery must be built on family-sustaining, not poverty-level jobs. Today’s news confirms what most of us already knew: workers are finding good union jobs despite political ideologues — and jobs are coming back as the economy slowly rebounds, but neither are nearly enough.

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