Union Power in 2014: Significant but Waning

Frank Manzo IV is the Policy Director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI). Visit ILEPI at www.illinoisepi.org or follow ILEPI on Twitter @illinoisEPI.

Today, the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI) released a new Research Report on the Illinois labor movement. Co-authored with researchers from the University of Illinois Labor Education Program (LEP) and University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration (SSA), The State of the Unions 2014: A Profile of Unionization in Chicago, in Illinois, and in America ­(PDF) analyzes the current state of labor unions and the course of unionization. The report investigates unionization rates and the impact of unions on wages across demographic, education, sector, industry, and occupation classifications.

Below are the main findings of the report, which is available online at this link (PDF):

  • There are approximately 116,000 fewer union members in Illinois today than there were in 2003 (and about 1.26 million fewer nationwide);
  • The decline in union members was primarily the result of decreases in male unionization, white unionization, and private sector unionization;
  • Despite the long-term downward trends, however, unionization increased in Illinois last year (from 14.6 percent to 15.7 percent- or by about 50,000 new members);
  • The year-over-year gains were driven by increases in the unionization of Chicago area workers, female workers, African-American workers, public sector workers, and older workers. Indeed, while union membership rates for women, African-American workers, and the public sector have trended downwards nationally, unionization for these groups has risen in Illinois since 2003;
  • Employment in the utilities industry, construction industry, or public sector raises the chances that a given Illinois worker is a union member;
  • High school dropouts, non-citizens, and residents who live in rural communities are less likely to be unionized in Illinois;
  • Unions raise worker wages by 21.4 percent on average (20.3 percent on median) in Illinois, higher than the national average of 16.7 percent;
  • Illinois ranks 8th among the 50 states plus D.C. in terms of union wage premium; and
  • Union workers work 4.8 hours longer each week than nonunion workers in Illinois.


Separately, ILEPI has also released another Economic Commentary jointly with the University of Illinois Labor Education Program on the socioeconomic differences between union households and nonunion households in America. Union and Nonunion Households: General Social Survey, 2000-2012 (PDF) compares and contrasts individuals in the two types of households across many characteristics– including household composition, work and income traits, religiosity, political affiliation, and institutional confidence.

A nice companion to the former piece, the study is available at this link (PDF). Compared to individuals in nonunion households, American residents in union households are:

  • Older, more African-American, less Latino or Latina, and more likely to be married;
  • More likely to have an advanced (master’s, professional, or doctorate) degree;
  • Disproportionately located in states in the Northeast, Midwest, and Pacific;
  • More likely to have a job, work more weeks and hours, earn more money per year, work in the public sector, and identify as “working class;”
  • More Catholic, less nonreligious, and more likely to attend church;
  • More likely to affiliate with the Democratic Party and be “stronger” Democrats; and
  • Happier, more likely to think some luck or help from others contributes to individual success, and have more confidence in science, organized religion, and organized labor but less confidence in Congress.

The good news for unions is that eight-in-ten union households and seven-in-ten nonunion households have confidence in organized labor.

Ultimately, the reports lead to the conclusion that, despite the long-term gradual decline in union membership, labor unions continue to play a vital role in the direction of the economy, in the creation of public policy, and in social life in both Illinois and the United States.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s