U.S. union rates up substantially in 2008 for first time since 1970s, study shows
Buoyed by a rising tide in California in general and Southern California in particular, U.S. unionization levels rose substantially this year, defying a decades-long trend of decline, according to a report by UCLA's Institute for Research on Labor and Employment.
"The State of the Unions in 2008: A Profile of Union Membership in Los Angeles, California and the Nation" shows unionization rates nationwide rising half a percentage point over the 2007 level, to 12.6 percent of all U.S. civilian workers in 2008. The rate rose one-tenth of a percentage point between 2006 and 2007. Prior to that, the last time
"This is good news for organized labor," said Ruth Milkman, lead author of the report and outgoing director of the UCLA labor institute. "It shows that despite an extremely hostile environment, unions can grow."
Milkman and UCLA sociology graduate student Bongoh Kye analyzed U.S. Current Population Survey data on union membership for
According to the report, in the first half of 2008, the number of
Fueling the nationwide increase was the recent growth in unionization in
The Los Angeles metro area, which includes
"In a very real way,
In the first half of 2008, unionization rates in manufacturing were 10.1 percent in
While the public sector continues to account for the largest share of unionized workers overall, the study found an unexpected uptick in private-sector unionization in all three geographical jurisdictions. Although the increase in the state and nation was quite a bit smaller, Los Angeles' private-sector unionization rate increased from 8.8 percent in 2007 to 10 percent today.
"One component of this growth is recent union organizing, like the Service Employees International Union's successful security officer campaign here in
The appeal of unionism to workers themselves is easy to understand. Average hourly earnings are about $2.50 higher for union members than for nonunion workers in the
Although state and local data on benefits are not available for 2008, nationwide, 90 percent of union members had access to retirement benefits, compared with only 61 percent of nonunion workers; 91 percent of union members had access to medical coverage, compared with 70 percent of nonunion workers; and 57 percent of union members had employer-provided paid-leave benefits, compared with only 38 percent of nonunion workers.
As has been the case for decades, unionization rates are considerably higher among older workers than younger ones, the researchers noted.
In addition to being older, unionized workers on average are more educated than their nonunion counterparts, the researchers found. In fact, the more education workers have, the higher their unionization rates tend to be.
"Whereas decades ago, the archetypal union member was a blue collar worker with limited education, today mid-level professionals are much more likely to be unionized than anyone else, especially in sectors like educational service and public administration, which both have relatively large numbers of college-educated workers." Kye said.
The high unionization rates in educational services and public administration also mean that more women than men are being represented by unions in 2008 in
Teachers and other educational workers account for more than one-quarter of all unionized workers in the city, state and nation, and workers employed in public administration — such as librarians, social workers, and city and county clerical staff — account for more than an eighth of union members in all three jurisdictions.
The highly unionized public sector accounts for two other key demographic trends in unionization. African Americans, who are relatively highly concentrated in public-sector employment, have the highest unionization rate of any racial or ethnic group. And while the gap has recently narrowed, U.S.-born workers have a higher unionization rate (13 percent nationally) than foreign-born workers (10.1 percent), who are less likely to be employed in the public sector. Foreign-born
The UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment supports faculty and graduate student research on employment and labor topics in a variety of academic disciplines; sponsors colloquia, conferences and other public programming; and is home to an undergraduate minor in labor and workplace studies. The institute also includes the