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Union density essentially unchanged in 2009, but 771,000 less union members

The union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union—was 12.3 percent in 2009, essentially unchanged from 12.4 percent a year earlier, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Friday, January 22. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 771,000 to 15.3 million, largely reflecting the overall drop in employment due to the recession. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers (Bureau of Labor Statistics, USDL 10-0069).

The data on union membership were collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS). The CPS is a monthly sample survey of about 60,000 households that obtains information on employment and unemployment among the nation's civilian noninstitutional population age 16 and over.

Some highlights from the 2009 data are:

Industry and occupation of union members

In 2009, 7.9 million public sector employees belonged to a union, compared with 7.4 million union workers in the private sector. The union membership rate for public sector workers (37.4 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private industry workers (7.2 percent). Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 43.3 percent. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and fire fighters. Private sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities (22.2 percent), telecommunications (16.0 percent), and construction (14.5 percent). In 2009, low unionization rates occurred in agriculture and related industries (1.1 percent) and financial activities (1.8 percent).

Among occupational groups, education, training, and library occupations (38.1 percent) and protective service occupations (35.6 percent) had the highest unionization rates in 2009. Farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (2.8 percent) and sales and related occupations (3.1 percent) had the lowest unionization rates.

Demographic characteristics of union members

The union membership rate was higher for men (13.3 percent) than for women (11.3 percent) in 2009. The gap between their rates has narrowed considerably since 1983, when the rate for men was about 10 percentage points higher than the rate for women. Between 1983 and 2009, the union membership rate for men declined by 11.4 percentage points, while the rate for women declined by 3.3 percentage points.

In 2009, among major race and ethnicity groups, black workers were more likely to be union members (13.9 percent) than workers who were white (12.1 percent), Asian (11.4 percent), or Hispanic (10.2 percent). Black men had the highest union membership rate (15.4 percent), while Hispanic women had the lowest rate (9.7 percent).

By age, the union membership rate was highest among workers 55 to 64 years old (16.6 percent). The lowest union membership rate occurred among those ages 16 to 24 (4.7 percent).

Union representation

In 2009, 16.9 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union. This group includes both union members (15.3 million) and workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract (1.6 million). Government employees (781,000) comprised nearly half of the 1.6 million workers who were covered by a union contract, but not members of a union.


In 2009, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $908, while those who were not represented by unions had median weekly earnings of $710.

In addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, the difference reflects a variety of influences including variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, firm size, or geographic region.

Union membership by state

In 2009, 29 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 12.3 percent, while 20 states had higher rates, and 1 state had the same rate. All states in the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions reported union membership rates above the national average, and all states in the East South Central and West South Central divisions had rates below it. Union membership rates rose over the year in 24 states, declined in 21 states and the District of Columbia, and were unchanged in 5 states.

Six states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2009, with North Carolina having the lowest rate (3.1 percent). The next lowest rates were recorded in Arkansas (4.2 percent), South Carolina (4.5 percent), Georgia (4.6 percent), Virginia (4.7 percent), and Mississippi (4.8 percent). Four states had union membership rates over 20.0 percent in 2009 — New York (25.2 percent), Hawaii (23.5 percent), Alaska (22.3 percent), and Washington (20.2 percent).

State union membership levels depend on both the employment level and union membership rate. The largest numbers of union members lived in California (2.5 million) and New York (2.0 million). About half of the 15.3 million union members in the U.S. lived in just 6 states (California, 2.5 million; New York, 2.0 million; Illinois, 1.0 million; Pennsylvania, 0.8 million; and Michigan and New Jersey, 0.7 million each), though these states accounted for only one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.

Texas (the second largest state in terms of the number of wage and salary workers) had one-fourth as many union members as New York (the third largest), despite having 1.9 million more wage and salary employees. Similarly, Tennessee and Hawaii had comparable numbers of union members (121,000 and 123,000, respectively), though Tennessee's wage and salary employment level (2.4 million) was more than 4 times that of Hawaii (526,000).

For more information on this and other topics, consult CCH Employment Practices Guide or CCH Labor Relations.

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