Annual survey records further union membership declines

Union membership fell to 10.7 percent of the U.S. workforce in 2016, down from 11.1 percent the previous year, according to the latest annual report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That amounted to a loss of 240,000 union members since the previous year. Total U.S. union membership now stands at 14.6 million.

The 10.7 percent figure is the lowest ever recorded since comparable data began to be collected in 1983. That year, union members made up 20.1 percent of the U.S. workforce.

Just 6.4 percent of private-sector workers were union members, while more than five times that, 34.4 percent, of public sector workers were union members. That amounted to 7.1 million union members in the public sector, and 7.4 million union members in the private sector.

Union members continue to out-earn non-union workers, on average: Median weekly earnings were $1,004 for union members, compared to $802 for workers without a union.

New York was the most unionized state, at 23.6 percent, while South Carolina was the least, with 1.6 percent.

In Oregon, 13.5 percent of workers were union members in 2016, compared to 14.8 percent for 2015. In Washington, the survey found 17.4 percent of workers were union members in 2016, compared to 16.8 percent in 2015. The BLS union membership report is considered fairly reliable at the national level, but small year-to-year fluctuations at the state level may have more to do with how the numbers are obtained. They come from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, a monthly sample of 60,000 households nationwide. The smaller the state’s population, the greater the likelihood that a statistical sample might not have been representative.

Total union membership was estimated at 228,000 in Oregon, and  539,000 in Washington.

In Idaho, union members were estimated at 6.1 percent of the workforce in 2016, and in Montana, they were 11.9 percent.

In each case, the figures are slightly higher for “union-represented” workers than for union “members.” That’s because some union-represented workers choose not to become full union members. Nationwide, an estimated 1.7 million workers were union-represented but not union members, and the total of the U.S. workforce that was union-represented was 12.0 percent. In Oregon, union-represented workers were 15.8 percent of the workforce, and in Washington 18.7 percent.

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