Union Membership Rate in 2011 Was 11.8%, Little Changed From 11.9% in 2010

Washington, DC—(ENEWSPF)—January 27, 2012. In 2011, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union–was 11.8 percent, essentially unchanged from 11.9 percent in 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.8 million, also showed little movement over the year. 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.

The data on union membership were collected as part of the Current Population Survey (CPS), 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. For more information, see the Technical Note.

Highlights from the 2011 data:

  • Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (37.0 percent) more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.9 percent). (See table 3.)                                                                        
  • Workers in education, training, and library occupations had the highest unionization rate, at 36.8 percent, while the lowest rate occurred in sales and related occupations (3.0 percent). (See table 3.)
  • Black workers were more likely to be union members than were white, Asian, or Hispanic workers. (See table 1.)
  • Among states, New York continued to have the highest union membership rate (24.1 percent) and North Carolina again had the lowest rate (2.9 percent). (See table 5.)

Industry and Occupation of Union Members

In 2011, 7.6 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared with 7.2 million union workers in the private sector. The union membership rate for public-sector workers (37.0 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private-sector workers (6.9 percent). Within the public sector, local government workers had the highest union membership rate, 43.2 percent. This group includes workers in heavily unionized occupations, such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters. Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included transportation and utilities (21.1 percent) and construction (14.0 percent), while low unionization rates occurred in agriculture and related industries (1.4 percent) and in financial activities (1.6 percent). (See table 3.)

Among occupational groups, education, training, and library occupations (36.8 percent) and protective service occupations (34.5 percent) had the highest unionization rates in 2011. Sales and related occupations (3.0 percent) and farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (3.4 percent) had the lowest unionization rates. (See table 3.)

Selected Characteristics of Union Members

The union membership rate was higher for men (12.4 percent) than for women (11.2 percent) in 2011. (See table 1.) 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 2011, the union membership rate for men declined by almost half (12.3 percentage points), while the rate for women declined by 3.4 percentage points.

In 2011, among major race and ethnicity groups, black workers were more likely to be union members (13.5 percent) than workers who were white (11.6 percent), Asian (10.1 percent), or Hispanic (9.7 percent).

Black men had the highest union membership rate (14.6 percent), while Asian men had the lowest rate (9.1 percent).

By age, the union membership rate was highest among workers 55 to 64 years old (15.7 percent). The lowest union membership rate occurred among those ages 16 to 24 (4.4 percent).

Full-time workers were about twice as likely as part-time workers to be union members, 13.1 percent compared with 6.4 percent.

Union Representation

In 2011, 16.3 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union. This group includes both union members (14.8 million) and workers who report no union affiliation but whose jobs are covered by a union contract (1.5 million). (See table 1.) Government employees comprised about half of the 1.5 million workers who were covered by a union contract but were not members of a union. (See table 3.)


In 2011, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly earnings of $938, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings of $729. In addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, earnings differences reflect a variety of influences, including variations in the distributions of union members and nonunion employees by occupation, industry, firm size, or geographic region. (See table 2.)

Union Membership by State

In 2011, 29 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that of the U.S. average, 11.8 percent, while 21 states had higher rates. All states in the Middle Atlantic and Pacific divisions reported union membership rates above the national average, while all states in the East South Central and West South Central divisions had rates below it. Union membership rates declined over the year in 29 states and the District of Columbia, rose in 19 states, and were unchanged in 2 states. (See table 5.)

Seven states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2011, with North Carolina having the lowest rate (2.9 percent). The next lowest rates were recorded in South Carolina (3.4 percent), Georgia (3.9 percent), Arkansas (4.2 percent), Louisiana (4.5 percent), and Tennessee and Virginia (4.6 percent each). Three states had union membership rates over 20.0 percent in 2011: New York (24.1 percent), Alaska (22.1 percent), and Hawaii (21.5 percent).

State union membership levels depend on both the overall employment levels and union membership rates. The largest numbers of union members lived in California (2.4 million) and New York (1.9 million).

Over half of the 14.8 million union members in the U.S. lived in just seven states (California, 2.4 million; New York, 1.9 million; Illinois, 0.9 million; Pennsylvania, 0.8 million; Michigan 0.7 million; and New Jersey and Ohio, 0.6 million each), though these states accounted for only about one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.

Texas had about one-fourth as many union members as New York, despite having 2.3 million more wage and salary employees. North Carolina and Hawaii had comparable numbers of union members (105,000 and 113,000, respectively), though North Carolina’s wage and salary employment level (3.6 million) was nearly seven times that of Hawaii (525,000).

To view the tables referenced above, see: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/union2.nr0.htm

Source: bls.gov