Union Membership Rate Rose in 2020 Despite Coronavirus Pandemic

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

February 4, 2021

While the US lost nearly 10 million jobs in 2020 in a market ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, the union membership rate actually rose last year according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), including for private employers. This marks a reversal of declines from recent years. The news comes with the Biden administration expected to support laws and regulations that will make it much easier for unions to organize.

The percentage of wage and salaried workers who were members of unions was 10.8%, representing an increase of 0.5% from 2019. However, the overall number of workers belonging to unions dropped by 321,000 because of the large number of jobs lost. Nonetheless, that dip was significantly less than the total job losses for all employees.

Among the more notable findings from the BLS Report include:

  • Men continued to have a higher union membership rate than women, though the gap closed slightly (11% vs. 10.5%);
  • Black workers remained more likely to be union members than White, Asian or Hispanic workers;
  • Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 84% of earnings for workers who were union members;
  • Among states, Hawaii and New York had the highest union membership rates (23.7% and 22% respectively) while South Carolina and North Carolina continued to have the lowest.

Perhaps not surprisingly, union membership rates varied widely depending on region. For instance, over half of the 14.3 million union members in the US lived in just seven states (California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Jersey and Ohio).

Private-sector industries with high unionization rates included:

  • Utilities (20.6%);
  • Transportation and warehousing (17%); and
  • Telecommunications (14.3%).

The lowest unionization rates occurred in food services, finance, and professional and technical services. The public employee unionization rate of 34.8% continues to far outpace the private sector.