Labor Secretary Solis Sees Union Advantage

BLS Issues Annual Report on Membership

March 2011

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U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis recently pointed out some of the benefits of union representation.


In a Jan. 21 statement issued following the release of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual report on union membership, Solis pointed out, “The data shows the median usual weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary union members were $917 per week, compared to $717 for workers not represented by unions. For Latinos, the wage disparity is even greater with union members earning an average of $771 compared to $512 for workers not represented by unions, a difference of 33.6 percent.


“When coupled with existing data showing that union members have access to better health care, retirement and leave benefits, today’s numbers make it clear that union jobs are not only good jobs, they are central to restoring our middle class.”


She added, “As workers across the country continue to face lower wages and difficulty finding work due to the recent recession, these numbers demonstrate the pressing need to provide workers with a voice in the workplace and protect their right to organize and bargain collectively.”


Not surprisingly in light of the national unemployment rate, the BLS report indicated that in 2010, the unionization rate of employed wage and salary workers was 11.9 percent, down from 12.3 percent in 2009. Among private-sector employees, the rate dropped to 6.9 percent from 7.2 percent in 2009.


According to the report, in 2010, 7.6 million public sector employees belonged to a union, compared with 7.1 million union workers in the private sector. Among states, New York had the highest union membership rate (24.2 percent) and North Carolina had the lowest rate (3.2 percent).


The agency also reported that “within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 42.3 percent. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and fire fighters. Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities (21.8 percent),telecommunications (15.8 percent), and construction (13.1 percent).”


The report continued, “Among occupational groups, education, training, and library occupations (37.1 percent) and protective service occupations (34.1 percent) had the highest unionization rates in 2010. Sales and related occupations (3.2 percent) and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (3.4 percent) had the lowest unionization rates.”


Additionally, the union membership rate was higher for men (12.6 percent) than for women (11.1 percent) in 2010. 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.

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Hilda Solis

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis