Labor’s Changing Face: More and More Public Sector Employees

By January 22, 2010General, Labor Unions

The Bureau of Labor Statistics today released its annual report on union membership, in 2009 again showing a decline in private sector unionization, now down to 7.2 percent of the workforce. The recession obviously played a major role in 2009 employment figures, union and non-union.

Other major findings:

  • In 2009, the union membership rate–the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union–was 12.3 percent, essentially unchanged from 12.4 percent a year earlier.
  •  The union membership rate for public sector workers (37.4 percent) was substantially higher than the rate for private industry workers (7.2 percent).
  • The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 771,000 to 15.3 million, largely reflecting the overall drop in employment due to the recession. 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.
  • More public sector employees (7.9 million) belonged to a union than did private sector employees (7.4 million), despite there being 5 times more wage and salary workers in the private sector.
  • Among states, New York had the highest union membership rate (25.2 percent) and North Carolina had the lowest rate (3.1 percent).

And from James Sherk of the Heritage Foundation (via Michael Franc):

  • The average worker for a state or local government earns $39.83 an hour in wages and benefits. His counterpart in the private sector earns considerably less — $27.49 an hour. Over 80 percent of state and local workers have pensions; just 50 percent of private sector workers do. These differences remain, Sherk notes, even after controlling for education, skills, and demographics. The bottom line: Taxpayers now underwrite unionized government jobs that pay considerably more — over $430 per week more — than comparable jobs in the private sector.

Franc observes that “[collective] bargaining gives government employees a strong incentive to support the highest possible level of taxation at every level of government.” Which, we add, discourages investment by the private sector.

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