Union membership slips in Oregon, grows in Washington

A new report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows the ranks of union membership in Oregon dropped by 8,000 members in 2015. Density and numbers both dropped — from 243,000 unionists (15.6 percent) in 2014, to 235,000 last year (14.8 percent).

In the State of Washington, a half-million residents belonged to labor unions in 2015, up 9,000 members from a year prior. Washington has the fifth-highest union density of any state, with 16.8 percent of the workforce being union members. Only New York (24.7 percent), Hawaii (20 percent), Alaska (19.6 percent) and Connecticut (17 percent) are higher.

Wisconsin saw the largest decrease in membership, by far, as Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-union program fully kicked in. His 2011 agenda stripped public unions of bargaining rights, and he later pushed through a right-to-work law. Wisconsin lost 83,000 union members in one year, dropping to 223,000. Density drop-ped from 12.6 percent to 8.3 percent.

The BLS union membership report depicts trends pretty accurately at the national level, but less so at the level of smaller states like Oregon, which has about 1.2 percent of the U.S. population. The smaller the state, the greater the sampling error (the likelihood that the statistical sample might not have been representative.) That explains why Oregon’s union percentage in the BLS report has fluctuated significantly year to year, from a low of 13.8 percent in 2006 to a high of 17.1 percent in 2011.

Nationwide, BLS calculated that unions had 14.795 million members last year, up 219,000 from 2014. Union density was unchanged at 11.1 percent.

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 union members, to 7.241 million last year. That’s slightly fewer than the 7.554 million private-sector union members.

According the BLS report, median weekly earnings of full-time union workers ($975) were more than 25 percent higher than those of nonunion workers ($776) in 2015.

“That’s not pocket change — it comes to more than $10,000 per year,” U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said in a press statement. “That goes a long way toward writing the mortgage check, paying down the car loan, or even just keeping the kids in snow boots. And, that doesn’t even account for the superior benefits, safer workplaces and other advantages that come with union representation.”

The annual survey follows another federal report — The National Compensation Survey — that showed union members are far more likely to have employer-provided retirement and health care benefits than their nonunion counterparts.

The report found:

• 95 percent of union workers had the option of an employer-sponsored health care plan, compared to 69 percent of nonunion workers;

• 94 percent of union workers had the option of an employer-sponsored retirement plan, compared to 65 percent of nonunion workers; and

• 93 percent of union workers had the option of an employee-sponsored prescription drug insurance, compared to 67 percent of nonunion workers.

In addition, the quality of the benefits provided to union workers typically was better, the data showed. For example, workers were expected to contribute 19 percent toward the cost of the family’s health care under union-negotiated benefits plans, while nonunion workers were forced to shell out 35 percent of the cost, which amounts to 84 percent more in out-of-pocket costs.

“With this report, we are reminded again that the labor movement continues to be one of the most powerful forces for strengthening the middle class and providing economic stability, for members and non-members alike,” Perez said.

(Editor’s Note: Press Associates Inc. and the Washington State Labor Council’s The Stand contributed to this report.)

1 Comment on Union membership slips in Oregon, grows in Washington

  1. Looks to me that the most highly “unionized” states are the ones which are also the most expensive to live in. In fact, it appears that the somewhat higher union pay differential doesn’t begin to cover the much higher cost of living in those states.

    With that in mind, I’m not sure that using the alleged union wage differential is all that great an argument for unions….particularly since the primary characteristic of union membership in recent decades has been that of the vastly increased likelihood of losing one’s job.

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