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News from EPI Number of workers represented by a union held steady in 2019: Union coverage rate ticked down as more workers enter the labor market

New data on unionization from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in 2019, 16.4 million workers in the United States were represented by a union. There was very little change in this figure from 2018 (+3,000). However, because workers entered the workforce faster than the number of workers represented by a union increased over this period (1.2% vs. 0.02%), the share of workers represented by a union ticked down between 2018 and 2019, from 11.7% to 11.6%.

In the private sector, the number of workers represented by a union increased by 50,000 in 2019, or 0.6%. But due to the 1.5% increase in private-sector employment, the share of private-sector workers represented by a union fell slightly, from 7.2% to 7.1%. The biggest gains in private-sector unionization were in healthcare and social assistance, while the biggest losses were in retail trade.

The total number of public-sector workers who were represented by a union declined by 47,000 in 2019, or -0.6%. However, employment in the public sector declined at almost the same rate, so the share of public-sector workers represented by a union held steady at 37.2%.

The share of workers represented by a union in 2019 was similar among men and women, with 12.1% of men and 11.0% of women represented by a union. By race and ethnicity, black workers experienced the biggest decline in union coverage in 2019, declining from 13.8% to 12.7%. Nevertheless, among major racial and ethnic groups, black workers still had the highest rate of union coverage at 12.7%. Asian workers had the lowest rate, at 10.0%, but Asian workers also experienced the biggest coverage rate increase in 2019, rising from 9.5% to 10.0%. The union coverage rate for Hispanic workers was 10.2%. By age, there was an increase in union coverage among workers under the age of 45 (+127,000), while workers age 45 or older saw a decline (-125,000).

“The share of workers covered by a union contract is well less than half of what it was 40 years ago—caused in large part by fierce corporate opposition spending millions of dollars on anti-union campaigns and lobbying the government to weaken labor laws,” said Heidi Shierholz, EPI’s Director of Policy. “Despite this attack on unions, we’ve seen a surge of strikes in the last two years, showing that workers understand the importance of joining together with their coworkers to demand better wages and working conditions.”

Survey data show that 48% of nonunion workers would vote to join a union in their workplace if given the opportunity to do so. A recent EPI report, however, found that employers spend roughly $340 million annually on “union avoidance” consultants and are charged with breaking the law in 41.5% of union elections. This combination of illegal conduct and legal coercion has ensured that union elections are characterized by employer intimidation and are a strong departure the democratic process guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act.


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