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Union Membership Density is Steady

What makes the reporting flawed is that when low wage Trump part time jobs flood the market, stats show a decrease

Daniel Hinton's picture
Feb 15, 2019

There is more than one way to skin a cat and even more ways to measure the job market. Whereas (un)employment numbers might tell us about the number of jobs out there, union density says a lot about their quality.

Union jobs offer better salaries, safer work, and benefits for middle-class and low-income communities at large. More union jobs mean a stronger economy for all. When, nationally, employment is up and union membership is down — like it is now — that spells trouble for the average American. New jobs are being created, sure, but they suck.  The Federal Reserve has identified involuntary part-time (IPT) work as a staple of the new gig economy. It should come as no surprise the union rate among part-time workers (5.4 percent) is less than half among full-timers (11.6 percent).

Having said that, the latest trends reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) vary by state, industry, sector, race, age, etc., and it’s not all bad. Some states and industries have actually seen union growth. As Mario Cilento of the NYS AFL-CIO told Newsday, “It’s not uncommon to see some ebb and flow in employment numbers in general and therefore in union membership as well.”

To give a better idea of this variation, consider that eight states had under 5 percent union density while 2 states (New York and Hawaii) had over 20 percent. In the private sector, it goes from over 20 percent in utilities to about 1 percent in food services. The nationwide and statewide statistics start to look even more mixed — for better or worse — as they are broken down locally. In the face of job market fluctuations, the only answer is to organize.

Strikes are up. Look at what’s happening in public education and cities like Denver in the wake of Janus. It’s also entering the tech, renewable energy, and medical marijuana industries. If the latest BLS report indicated an ebb in the labor movement, this year could be the start of the flood.

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