Union Membership Declined Slightly in 2018

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Union membership declined slightly from 2017 to 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Using calculations from the Current Population Survey – a scientifically selected rolling sample of 60,000 households – BLS calculated there were 14.744 million union members last year, down 73,000 from the year before. Union density in 2018 was 10.5 percent.

Anticipating the numbers, the AFL-CIO vigorously countered by citing union victories last year and this: The 30,000 teachers forced to strike in Los Angeles this week.

“Here’s what the numbers alone won’t tell you: 2018 was one of the most substantial years for collective action in American history,” federation spokesman Josh Goldstein said.

Besides the L.A. teachers, he cited Unite Here workers “taking on Marriott” – and winning – over the issue of low-paying jobs and Google workers walking out worldwide over issues of sexual harassment and a voice on the job. The Google workers are not unionized.

And while Goldstein didn’t say so, BLS added another union edge: Pay. And pay equity. The median union worker earned $1,051 weekly last year, compared to $860 for the median non-unionist. The median is the point where half of workers are above and half below.

Median weekly earnings for union men were $1,123, $175 ahead of non-union men ($948). Median weekly earnings for union women were $968, 86 percent of the earnings of union men.

Median weekly earnings for union women last year were $20 more than those of non-union men, and $234 more than the median for non-union women. Non-union women earned 80.5 percent of what non-union men did.

Goldstein also cited unions’ record – and successful – political activism, including election of a pro-worker majority in the U.S. House and of 950 unionists who won political office in November, from Gov. Tim Walz, DFL-Minn., an Education Minnesota member on down to a Teamster win in a rural county commissioner’s seat in rural North Carolina.

All of that contrasts with BLS’ numbers.

The agency reported that a slight majority of union members were in the private sector, 7.577 million, compared to 7.167 million in the public sector.

The public sector was more heavily unionized, with one of every three workers – state and local government workers, teachers, fire fighters, and federal workers – unionized, compared to one of every 16 (6.4 percent) in the private sector. Teachers and protective services, each with even higher percentages, led the way.

The construction industry told BLS surveyors they had 1.048 million union members last year, down 54,000 from 2017. One of every eight construction workers was an unionist.

Factories added 12,000 more unionized workers in 2018, to 1.34 million, BLS calculated. The factory numbers imply the gains may have come from signing up former “free riders.” Their numbers in factories dropped by 17,000 last year.

Overall, the number of people represented by unions, including both union members and workers represented by unions but who are not members – the “free riders,” especially in right-to-work states – declined by 64,000, the agency said.

As usual, union members were concentrated in the Northeast, the Great Lakes and the Pacific Coast states. The most union-dense states last year were Hawaii (23.1 percent), New York (22.3 percent), Washington (19.8%), Alaska (18.5%) and Rhode Island (17.5%).

The biggest union numbers BLS calculated were in California (2.405 million, down 87,000 and with 14.7% density), New York (1.872 million, -145,000, 22.3%), Illinois (786,000,

-86,000, 13.8%), Pennsylvania (701,000, +36,000, 12.6%), Michigan (625,000, -33,000, 14.5%), Ohio (639,000, +4,000, 12.6%) and Washington (649,000, +61,000, 19.8%). 

Washington’s numerical gain was so large that it pushed New Jersey, which lost members, out of the top seven, the first such change in those ranks in at least a decade.

Washington was also the biggest numerical gainer, but BLS calculated many of the other gains were in the least-unionized area, the South. Florida (+38,000), Georgia and Alabama (+28,000 each), Louisiana (+11,000) and South Carolina (+3,000) all added union members.



Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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