Just The Facts

Union Concentration in the United States

After a decades-long slide, where does union membership currently stand?

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Takeaways


  • Some 14.5 million Americans are members of a union, the largest total number in the OECD.
  • The peak level of the overall US unionization rate occurred in 1954, when it stood at 35%.

1. Surprisingly, the United States has a higher share of union membership in its labor force (10.7%) than does France (7.7%).

2. The average unionization level among industrialized OECD countries stands at 16.7%.

3. A key part of this equation in the United States is that government employees (including teachers, firefighters, etc.), at 34.4%, have a relatively high degree of unionization.

4. In contrast, only 6.4% of the U.S. private sector workforce — or about one in every 15 people employed there — is unionized.

5. Some 14.5 million Americans are members of a union, the largest total number in the OECD.

6. In absolute terms, in the United States, there are now about as many public-sector union workers as private-sector union workers.

7. The peak level of the overall U.S. unionization rate occurred in 1954, when it stood at 35%.

8. Since 1979, there has not been a single year in which the U.S. unionization rate has ticked up again.

9. The decline of the percentage of trade union membership is occurring in all rich countries and especially pronounced in the private sector.

10. In part, less friendly government policies have contributed to the unions’ decline.

11. But the biggest cause of the decline in unions is that the underlying organization of labor has changed.

12. The shift from manufacturing to services and from enforced presence on factory floors or in offices to remote work, as well as the additional shift toward outsourcing, has had a profound effect.

13. This has led to a multiplication of smaller work units, often not located physically in the same place.

14. Organizing a dispersed workforce is much more difficult than organizing workers who work in a single huge plant and share a single interest.

Sources: The Globalist Research Center, OECD, U.S. BLS, Congressional Research Service, Branko Milanovic

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