Study – Union Power in Illinois is Significant, but Waning

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

CHICAGO- A new study released today finds that labor unions play a vital role in Illinois’ communities and economy, but face major challenges. The study, The State of the Unions 2015: A Profile of Unionization in Chicago, in Illinois, and in America [PDF] was conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois (Robert Bruno, PhD), the University of Chicago (Virginia Parks, PhD), and the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (Frank Manzo IV, MPP).

Since 2005, union membership in Illinois has declined by approximately 97,000 workers, contributing to the 1.12 million drop in union members across the nation. Declining unionization in Illinois has primarily been the result of decreases in male, Latino/a, and private sector unionization.

However, there has been some good news for those in the Illinois labor movement. From 2012 to 2014, the state’s unionization rate increased from 14.6 percent to 15.1 percent, and total union membership increased by about 30,000 workers.

In Illinois, well over half of all public sector workers are unionized, while only nine percent of private sector workers are union members. Among racial or ethnic groups, African-American workers are statistically the most likely to be union members. Workers with master’s degrees are the most-unionized group by level of educational attainment.

The report also finds that labor unions increase individual incomes in Illinois. Union membership raises a worker’s hourly wage by 11.9 percent on average. The wage effect is largest for middle-class workers (i.e., from the 25th percentile to the 75th percentile of the wage distribution).

Recent developments have the potential to significantly reduce union membership in Illinois. Since Wisconsin curbed collective bargaining rights for state workers, state employee union membership has declined by 15.6 percentage points. Governor Rauner’s (R) Executive Order could have a similar impact in Illinois. In addition, local right-to-work laws, if adopted, could reduce union membership by up to 200,000 workers.

“The labor movement’s presence is still keenly felt in Illinois,” said Frank Manzo IV, MPP; Policy Director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute. “Unions continue to increase incomes across the state and advance a strong, middle-class economy. Labor’s response to recent challenges, however, could define its effectiveness in the decades to come.”

For more:

  • The State of the Unions 2015: A Profile of Unionization in Chicago, in Illinois, and in America can be found here


  • Debunking the myth of the overpaid union leader: here.
  • Union households vs. nonunion households: here.
  • Local “right-to-work” zones are bad for Illinois: here.
  • “Right-to-work” states are free-rider states: here.
  • Negative impact of “right-to-work” laws (slideshow): here.


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