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Union Workers Earn More Than Nonunion

Yet, union membership has been declining since 1983 


American workers who are members of unions earn significantly more per hour than their nonunion counterparts, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Data from the BLS National Compensation Survey shows that in July 2002, average hourly earnings among all union workers were $20.65, compared with $16.42 for nonunion workers.

In 2002, full-time wage and salary workers who were union members had median usual weekly earnings of $740, compared with a median of $587 for wage and salary workers who were not represented by unions.

Unionized workers in blue-collar occupations averaged $18.88 per hour, compared with $12.95 for nonunion blue-collar workers. The highest paid blue-collar workers among the major occupational groups were precision production, craft, and repair workers; in this group, union workers had average hourly earnings of $23.05, compared with $16.33 for nonunion workers.

Among service occupations, union workers had average hourly earnings of $16.22, compared with $8.98 for nonunion workers.

In two white-collar major occupational groups, average hourly earnings were higher for nonunion than for union workers. The first was executive, administrative, and managerial occupations, in which nonunion earnings averaged $31.48 per hour, and union earnings averaged $26.73. The second was sales workers, among whom nonunion workers had average hourly earnings of $14.58, compared with $12.78 for their union counterparts.

Union workers are considered those whose wages are determined through a collective bargaining process.

BLS Defines collective bargaining as a method whereby representatives of employees (unions) and employers determine the conditions of employment through direct negotiation, normally resulting in a written contract setting forth the wages, hours, and other conditions to be observed for a stipulated period (e.g., 3 years).

In 2002, 13.2 percent of wage and salary workers were union members, down from 13.4 percent (as revised) in 2001.

The number of persons belonging to a union fell by 280,000 over the year to 16.1 million in 2002. The union membership rate has steadily declined from a high of 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available.

Other interesting fact about union membership from the BLS include:

  • Of all U.S. workers, men (14.7 percent) were more likely to be union members than women (11.6 percent).

  • Nearly 4 in 10 government workers were union members in 2002, compared with less than 1 in 10 workers in private-sector industries. The transportation industry had the highest private-sector rate of unionization.

  • Nearly two-fifths of workers in protective service occupations were union members in 2002. Protective service occupations include fire- fighters and police officers. This group has had the highest union membership rate of any broad occupation group in every year since 1983.
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