Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) march during a protest in support of a new contract for apartment building workers in New York City, April 2, 2014
Mike Segar/Reuters

Union membership keeps falling

Only 11.1% of American workers were members of labor unions in 2014, reflecting the continued demise of collective bargaining in the U.S. 

Labor union membership has fallen steadily since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began collecting data in 1983, when 20.1% of U.S. workers were in union. Last year’s rate was the lowest on record, falling 0.2 percentage points from 2013.

The historical decline has been largely been driven by the death of unionized workplaces in the private sector. More than a third of public-sector workers were unionized in 2014, with a membership rate of 35.7%, while only 6.6% of private-sector workers are in unions — down from 9.0% in 2000.

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Overall, 14.6 million Americans were union members in 2014, and their earnings were significantly higher than those who were not in unions: Non-unionized workers had median weekly earnings of $763, which was only 79% of unionized workers’ pay, who earned $970. (The figures don’t control for occupation and other factors.)

Those working in education, training, and libraries were most likely to be in unions, and black Americans were more likely to be unionized than other racial groups. Union membership also varied widely by state: New York had the highest rate of union membership, at 24.6%, while North Carolina — a right-to-work state — had the lowest at 1.9%.

While public-sector unions have become a popular target for Republicans, Democrats have been increasingly calling for stronger collective bargaining as a route to raising ordinary Americans’ wages.

“To give working families a fair shot, we’ll still need more employers to see beyond next quarter’s earnings and recognize that investing in their workforce is in their company’s long-term interest,” President Obama said in his State of the Union address this week. “We still need laws that strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice.”