The latest annual report on union membership from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has been published. Here are some reactions from (in order) the Economic Policy Institute, the AFL-CIO, and the Department of Professional Employees.
Unionization rates rose in 2020 because a smaller share of union workers lost their jobs
Labor law reform should be a top priority for Congress and the new administration
New data on unionization from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in 2020, 15.9 million workers in the United States were represented by a union, a decline of 444,000 from 2019. However, while unionization levels dropped in 2020, unionization rates rose because union workers have seen less job loss than non-union workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Where workers have been able to act collectively and bargain through their union, they have been able to secure enhanced safety measures, additional premium pay, and paid sick time, during the pandemic,” said EPI Director of Policy Heidi Shierholz. “Due to this, unionized workers have had a voice in how their employers have navigated the pandemic, including negotiating for terms of furloughs or work-share arrangements to save jobs. This likely played a role in limiting overall job loss among unionized workers.”
Another reason unionization rates increased over the last year was a “pandemic composition effect.” In particular, industries with lower unionization rates, like leisure and hospitality, have tended to experience the most job loss during the pandemic, while sectors with higher unionization rates, like the public sector, have tended to see less job loss. A simple decomposition of the increase in the overall unionization rate in 2020 shows that roughly half (46.5%) of the increase was the result of a pandemic composition effect, while roughly half (53.5%) was due to union workers seeing less job loss than nonunion workers in the same industry.
In the private sector, 8.0 million workers were represented by a union in 2020, a decline of 544,000. The biggest losses were in leisure and hospitality (-177,000) and manufacturing (-134,000). However, the unionization rate in the private sector ticked up from 7.1% to 7.2%, due in large part to the fact that subsectors with somewhat higher unionization rates, such as healthcare and transportation and warehousing, saw a lower rate of job loss in the pandemic.
In the public sector, 7.9 million workers were represented by a union in 2020, an increase of 100,000. The increase was entirely among state government workers. The authors find that there was a decline in unionization of 38,000 in local government education which was roughly offset by an increase in unionization in local government jobs outside of education. On the other hand, the federal government unionization rate decreased from 30.5% to 30.0%, which is likely due in part to concerted attacks on federal government unions by the Trump administration.
12.3% of men and 11.8% of women were represented by a union in 2020. While women experienced more job loss than men over the last year, the number of women in unions declined less (a decline in unionization of 31,000 among women and 413,000 among men). Of all major racial and ethnic groups, Black workers have the highest unionization rates, at 13.9%. This compares to 12.0% for white workers, 11.0% for Hispanic workers, and 10.0% for Asian workers. In 2020, Black workers experienced the largest rate of decline in employment but the largest increase in the rate of unionization. This was likely due to in large part to composition effects—for example, women and Black workers are disproportionately concentrated in leisure and hospitality, which has seen large job loss but has low unionization rates, and in the public sector, which has seen less job loss and has higher unionization rates.
“The Biden administration and Congress must institute policies that promote union representation and collective bargaining as we rebuild our post-pandemic economy and workforce,” said Celine McNicholas, EPI Director of Government Affairs. “Unions played an invaluable role in fighting for health and safety measures during the pandemic, and but they have been under attack by corporate interests for decades. The Biden administration and the new Congress must make passing the PRO Act and other crucial labor law reforms a main priority.”
Increase in Union Density Part of National Groundswell
Statement from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on the increase in union density in 2020:
In 2020, America saw working people in a new light, as the true engines of our economy and the trusted servants who can carry us through a crisis. While last year was filled with unemployment and economic pain because of a deadly pandemic and the incompetent federal response to it, union density rose. We believe this increase is part of a national groundswell.
The popularity of unions is at 65%, one of the highest marks in a half-century, and research shows that more than 60 million workers would vote to join a union today if given the chance. The inauguration of President Joe Biden, who showed on his first day he is willing to fight for working people’s safety and to get union busters out of government, presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to finally create an environment where what workers desire truly drives union density. And that requires passing the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act so that our labor laws support and protect the freedom to form a union.
Professionals Continued to Organize in 2020, Boosting Union Membership Amid Economic Turmoil
WASHINGTON, Jan. 22, 2021 — Professional union membership rose in 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) annual report on union membership. The number of professionals in unions grew to 6.311 million, an increase of approximately 34,000 from 2019. Union density among professionals was 11.3 percent, up from 11.1 percent in 2019.
“Amidst a global pandemic and economic recession, professionals are continuing to organize and join unions,” said Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE) President Jennifer Dorning. “Joining together with their coworkers is the only way for professionals to win sustained, substantive change at work, and is the best path forward for professionals who want to protect their livelihoods during periods of economic uncertainty.”
Underneath the top-level data, the numbers show how the continued severity of the COVID-19 pandemic has been hurting professionals. The pandemic has had wide-reaching economic impacts, leading to the net loss of at least 662,000 jobs in professional occupations over the last year, including:
- 594,000 fewer teachers and other education, training and library professionals, a six percent decrease from 2019.
- Approximately 240,000 fewer jobs in arts, entertainment and media professions, a 19.8 percent decrease from last year. This includes significant job losses for many kinds of creative and entertainment professionals, including actors, musicians, directors, dancers, singers, reporters, editors, broadcasters and many others.
Many union professionals were able to weather the economic storms of the last year, in part, with protections and processes enshrined in their collective bargaining agreements that provided for salary reductions in lieu of layoffs, work-share arrangements, or severance packages for those who did lose their jobs.
The 2020 employment and union membership numbers also highlight the need for additional legislative action early in 2021 to protect professionals’ workplace rights and prevent further economic damage.
- The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act must become law to help ensure all professionals can exercise their right to join together in union and negotiate collectively with their employers.
- Congress must pass smart policies that will help America’s arts, entertainment, and media industries reopen when it is safe and get creative professionals back to work.
- Additional federal funding is also necessary to aid state and local governments in order to prevent cuts to essential services such as public health and education and allow state and local leaders to respond quickly to changing economic needs.
“Unions have been pivotal throughout the pandemic, protecting their members’ health, safety, and economic livelihood. Passage of the PRO Act will allow more professionals to exercise their right to form a union and create better workplaces. Additionally, we urge Congress to take action on federal arts funding and state and local aid to prevent further economic devastation due to the pandemic,” said Dorning.
The Department for Professional Employees, AFL-CIO (DPE) is a coalition of 24 unions representing over four million professional and technical union members. DPE affiliate unions represent professionals in over 300 occupations in education and healthcare; science, engineering, and technology; legal, business, and management; media, entertainment, and the arts; and public administration.