Union numbers are up in Oregon

Union membership in Oregon grew last year, adding 25,000 new members, according to new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data released Jan. 27. That brings the total union membership in the state to 270,000, or 17.1 of the workforce.

At the same time, the state of Washington lost union members, going from 552,000 in 2010 to 517,000 in 2011. The Evergreen State’s union density also dropped from 19.4 percent of the workforce to 19 percent.

Nationwide, union membership increased by 49,000 from 2010 to 2011, the BLS reported. An increase of 110,000 in the private sector was partially offset by a decline of  61,000 in the public sector, making the rate of union membership essentially unchanged at 11.8 percent, with some 14.8 million U.S. workers union members.

In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.

Public-sector union density increased from 36.2 percent to 37 percent through November 2011. Private-sector union membership remains at 6.9 percent. The largest increases in union membership were in construction, health care services, retail trade, primary metals and fabricated metal products, hospitals, transportation and warehousing.

The data  show that among full-time wage and salary workers, the median weekly earnings of union members were $938, compared to $729 for nonunion workers. Union women earned median weekly earnings of $879, an amount 34.6 percent higher than their nonunion counterparts, who earned just $653 by comparison.

Oregon’s 17.1 percent union density ranked tied for seventh with California out of the 50 states and District of Columbia. California lost 52,000 union members last year.

New York topped the union density list with 24.1 percent of its wage and hourly workers belonging to a union. Alaska followed with 22.1 percent; Hawaii, with 21.5 percent; Washington, with 19 percent; and Michigan, with 17.5 percent.

Seven right-to-work states had union membership rates below 5 percent in 2011, with North Carolina the lowest at 2.9 percent. The next lowest rates were recorded in South Carolina (3.4), Georgia (3.9), Arkansas (4.2), Louisiana (4.5), and Tennessee and Virginia (4.6 percent each).

The data on union membership were collected as part of the Current Population Survey, a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation’s civilian population age 16 and over.


Highlights from the 2011 BLS report:

  • 7.6 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared with 7.2 million union workers in the private sector.
  • The union membership rate for public-sector workers (37 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private-sector workers (6.9 percent).
  • Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 43.2 percent. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters.
  • Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities (21.1 percent) and construction (14 percent), while low unionization rates occurred in agriculture (1.4 percent) and financial activities (1.6 percent).
  • Among occupational groups, education, training, and library occupations (36.8 percent) and protective service occupations (34.5 percent) had the highest unionization rates in 2011. Sales and related occupations (3 percent) and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (3.4 percent) had the lowest unionization rates.
  • 16.3 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union. This group includes both union members (14.8 million) and workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract (1.5 million). Government employees comprised about half of the 1.5 million workers who were covered by a union contract but were not members of a union.
  • The union membership rate was higher for men (12.4 percent) than for women (11.2 percent). The gap between their rates has narrowed considerably since 1983, when the rate for men was about 10 percentage points higher than the rate for women. Between 1983 and 2011, the union membership rate for men declined by almost half (12.3 percentage points), while the rate for women declined by 3.4 percentage points.
  • Among major race and ethnicity groups, black workers were more likely to be union members (13.5 percent) than workers who were white (11.6 percent), Asian (10.1 percent), or Hispanic (9.7 percent). Black men had the highest union membership rate (14.6 percent), while Asian men had the lowest rate (9.1 percent).
  • By age, the union membership rate was highest among workers 55 to 64 years old (15.7 percent). The lowest union membership rate occurred among those ages 16 to 24 (4.4 percent).
  • 15,000 new 16- to 24-year-old union members.


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