In 2012, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were
members of a union–was 11.3 percent, down from 11.8 percent in 2011, the U.S. Bureau
of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging
to unions, at 14.4 million, also declined 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
ages 16 and over. For more information, see the Technical Note.
Highlights from the 2012 data:
–Public-sector workers had a union membership rate (35.9 percent) more than
five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.6 percent). (See
–Workers in education, training, and library occupations and in protective
service occupations had the highest unionization rates, at 35.4 and 34.8
percent, respectively. (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
(23.2 percent), and North Carolina again had the lowest rate (2.9 percent).
(See table 5.)
Industry and Occupation of Union Members
In 2012, 7.3 million employees in the public sector belonged to a union, compared
with 7.0 million union workers in the private sector. The union membership rate for
public-sector workers (35.9 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for
private-sector workers (6.6 percent). Within the public sector, local government
workers had the highest union membership rate, 41.7 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 (20.6 percent) and construction (13.2 percent). Low
unionization rates occurred in agriculture and related industries (1.4 percent) and
in financial activities (1.9 percent). (See table 3.)
Among occupational groups, education, training, and library occupations (35.4 percent)
and protective service occupations (34.8 percent) had the highest unionization rates
in 2012. Sales and related occupations (2.9 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 (12.0 percent) than for women (10.5 percent)
in 2012. (See table 1.) The gap between their rates has narrowed considerably since 1983,
when the rate for men was 24.7 percent and the rate for women was 14.6 percent.
In 2012, among major race and ethnicity groups, black workers had a higher union
membership rate (13.4 percent) than workers who were white (11.1 percent), Asian (9.6
percent), or Hispanic (9.8 percent). Black men had the highest union membership rate
(14.8 percent), while Asian men had the lowest rate (8.9 percent).
By age, the union membership rate was highest among workers ages 55 to 64 (14.9 percent).
The lowest union membership rate occurred among those ages 16 to 24 (4.2 percent).
Full-time workers were about twice as likely as part-time workers to be union members,
12.5 percent compared with 6.0 percent.
In 2012, 15.9 million wage and salary workers were represented by a union. This group
includes both union members (14.4 million) and workers who report no union affiliation
but whose jobs are covered by a union contract (1.6 million). (See table 1.) Private-
sector employees comprised about half (814,000) of the 1.6 million workers who were
covered by a union contract but were not members of a union. (See table 3.)
In 2012, among full-time wage and salary workers, union members had median usual weekly
earnings of $943, while those who were not union members had median weekly earnings
of $742. In addition to coverage by a collective bargaining agreement, this earnings
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. (See table 2.)
Union Membership by State
In 2012, 31 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below that
of the U.S. average, 11.3 percent, while 19 states had higher rates. 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 declined over the year in 34 states, rose in 14
states and the District of Columbia, and remained unchanged in 2 states. (See table 5.)
Eight states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2012. North Carolina had
the lowest rate (2.9 percent), followed by Arkansas (3.2 percent) and South Carolina
(3.3 percent). Three states had union membership rates over 20.0 percent in 2012:
New York (23.2 percent), Alaska (22.4 percent), and Hawaii (21.6 percent).
About half of the 14.4 million union members in the U.S. lived in just seven states
(California, 2.5 million; New York, 1.8 million; Illinois, 0.8 million; Pennsylvania,
0.7 million; and Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio, 0.6 million each), though these states
accounted for only about one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.
State union membership levels depend on both the state wage and salary employment level
and the union membership rate. Texas, with a union membership rate of 5.7 percent, had
about one-third as many union members as New York, despite having 2.7 million more
wage and salary employees. Conversely, North Carolina and Hawaii had comparable numbers
of union members (112,000 and 116,000, respectively), though North Carolina’s wage and
salary employment level (3.8 million) was more than seven times that of Hawaii (537,000).
- Union Members Technical Note
- Table 1. Union affiliation of employed wage and salary workers by selected characteristics
- Table 2. Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by union affiliation and selected characteristics
- Table 3. Union affiliation of employed wage and salary workers by occupation and industry
- Table 4. Median weekly earnings of full-time wage and salary workers by union affiliation, occupation, and industry
- Table 5. Union affiliation of employed wage and salary workers by state
- Access to historical data for the tables of the Union Membership News Release
- HTML version of the entire news release
–Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 2012