Wyatt Employment Law Report

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BLS Releases Union Membership Data for 2011

By Edwin S. Hopson

On January 27, 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor issued its report on union membership for 2011.  It concluded that the percentages and numbers for 2011 was largely unchanged from those for 2010.  The overall “union membership rate” – that is the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union — was 11.8%, essentially unchanged from 11.9% in 2010.  The number of workers belonging to unions in 2011 was 14.8 million.  This also was about the same as in 2010.  BLS noted that in 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1% and there were 17.7 million union workers.

 The 2011 data reported by BLS in summary form showed:

–Public-sector workers had a union membership rate  of 37.0% which is more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers at 6.9%.

–Workers in education, training, and library occupations had the highest unionization rate, at 36.8%.

–The lowest rate occurred in sales and related occupations at 3%.

–Black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian, or Hispanic


–7.6 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared with 7.2 million

union workers in the private sector.

–Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate at 43.2%, consisting primarily of heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters.

–Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities at 21.1% and construction at 14%.

–Low unionization rates were seen in agriculture and related industries at 1.4% and in financial activities at 1.6%.

–Among occupational groups, education, training, and library occupations had the highest unionization rate at 36.8% and protective service occupations came in at 34.5%.

— Sales and related occupations had the lowest rates at 3%, and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations were at 3.4%.

–The union membership rate was higher for men was 12.4% while for women  it was 11.2%.

–By age, the union membership rate was highest among workers 55 to 64 years old at 15.7%.

–The lowest union membership rate occurred among those ages 16 to 24 at 4.4%.