Illinois has not experienced the same attacks on worker rights and collective bargaining as many neighboring states. While some of Illinois’ elected officials have attempted to enact so-called “right-to-work” zones in Illinois and have eliminated project labor agreements (PLAs) on state projects, most efforts to undermine the labor movement have not been successful in Illinois.
As a result, Illinois’ unionization rate has recently increased to 15%.
Researchers at the Illinois Economic Policy Institute, the University of Illinois Project for Middle Class Renewal, and the University of California, Irvine have released the 5th annual report on union members in the Chicago metropolitan area and in Illinois.
The study, The State of the Unions 2018: A Profile of Unionization in Chicago, in Illinois, and in the United States, provides an overview of unionization by demographics, geography, educational attainment, industry, and occupation, while also assessing worker wages.
The authors find that there are approximately 111,000 fewer union members and 80 fewer local labor unions and similar organizations in Illinois than there were one decade ago. The historical decline in unionization is expected to continue due to the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Janus v. AFSCME. The ruling could dramatically weaken public sector unions, with unions in Illinois estimated to lose 49,000 members over time.
However, on the positive side, Illinois’ labor movement posted new gains last year:
- The unionization rate increased to 15%;
- Unions added 16,000 new members; and
- Millennial workers saw an increase in union membership.
The researchers also find that labor unions boost worker earnings– particularly for middle-income workers. In Illinois, unions raise wages by an average of 11%. The state’s union wage effect is the 11th-highest in the nation. The union wage differential is highest for middle-class workers (10%-12%), helping to reduce income inequality.
Military veterans are one of the most unionized demographics in Illinois. Over one-in-four employed veterans are unionized in Illinois (28%). For the United States, just 15% of veterans are members of unions.
Unions play a vital role in Illinois’ economy and communities. The Illinois labor movement, however, will continue to face both short- and long-term challenges due to the political environment, the makeup of the United States Supreme Court, and broader economic trends. Labor’s response to these challenges will define its influence and effectiveness in the decades to come and will be critical to the long-run survival of Illinois’ middle class.