February 21, 2020

Unionization at its lowest level in the United States

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Just over 10% of American workers are now unionized. That’s half as many as in the early 1980s. Unions attribute this drop to increasingly restrictive laws, particularly from the Trump administration.

The trend is global, but it is increasing in the United States. Union density in the United States reached an all-time low in 2019. Only 10.3% of American workers are now unionized, according to figures published Wednesday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). A rate which is slightly below that of France . It is 0.2 points less than in 2018, two points less than ten years ago and almost half as many as in the early 1980s: in 1983, they were still 20.3%.

Huge differences exist between the public and private sectors. In the public sector, the unionization rate is 33.6%, driven in particular by the police, firefighters and teachers’ unions, which are particularly strong on the other side of the Atlantic. In the private sector, the proportion falls to 6.2%.

Regional differences

Great disparities also exist at the geographical level. In general, Northern states are more unionized than Southern states, where legislation is more restrictive for trade unions. Hawaii (23.5 per cent) and New York State (21 per cent) have the highest unionization rates in the country, while South Carolina (2.2 per cent) and North Carolina (2.3 per cent) are the lowest.

Another major difference is wages. Unionized workers earn 22.7% more than non-unionized workers. The BLS reported that the median wage for a unionized employee was $1,095 per week, compared to $892 for a non-unionized employee.

Unions… more popular

For trade unions, this decline in membership is due to Washington and state policies, which are making it increasingly difficult to organize. Policies that would have intensified under Donald Trump. Indeed, the current administration has enacted several decrees reducing the daily time an employee can devote to his union or limiting the power of unions in company negotiations. The Supreme Court has also prohibited public service unions from collecting dues from the salaries of non-unionized employees.

Opponents argue that the decline of trade unions is due to their methods, as recent corruption cases involving the UAW , the powerful automobile union, would tend to prove. The UAW demonstrated its strength last year during the strike that paralysed the General Motors factories.

The paradox is that more and more Americans are supporting union action. A poll by the Gallup Institute, published last August, revealed that 64% of them had a favourable opinion, 16 points more than in 2009, at their lowest level.

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