While COVID-19 eliminated millions of jobs and forced additional layoffs last year, an annual report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics found fewer union members lost their jobs in 2020 compared to non-union workers.
The pandemic hit the job market extremely hard, with a large number of both union and non-union members getting laid off. Union members, however, fared slightly better, the study found.
From a nationwide perspective, the overall union membership rate increased last year, despite declines in the number of actual union members. The rate increase indicates a larger decline in total wage and salary employment among non-union workers compared to union members.
Union membership in the U.S. decreased from 14.5 million members in 2019 to 14.25 million in 2020. Since 1983, the first year there is comparable union data available, the number of union workers has dropped by roughly 3.45 million members.
The study found that union density actually rose in the U.S., due in large part to more non-union workers losing their jobs due to the pandemic. The percentage of union members in the American workforce increased from 10.3 percent (in 2019) to 10.8 percent (2020).
Throughout the country, the overall number of Americans represented by unions but not technically union members – fair-share payers – slightly decreased from 16.38 million to 15.93 million. However, due to overall job loss, the overall percentage of fair-share payers increased by 0.5 percent to 12.1 percent.
The survey revealed a loss in union workers in nearly all age groups, with the exception of a key group – men and women between the ages of 24 and 35. This demographic saw an overall increase of 1 percent in union membership, as the overall total rose from 2.97 million in 2019 to 3.07 million in 2020.
The gain of roughly 100,000 union members between the ages of 24 and 35 was offset by losses in all other age groups.
The downward union density trend continued in the construction industry. Last year, the overall number of union construction workers fell below the 1 million mark from 1.05 million in 2019 to 993,000 in 2020.
Despite the loss of union construction workers, union membership within the industry increased by 0.1 percent from 12.6 percent to 12.7 percent.
Last year, union construction workers brought home a full-time median weekly income of $1,254, which is $334 more per week than those working non-union. In 2020, non-union construction workers earned a full-time median weekly income of $920, which is a $52 per week increase compared to the previous year.
While non-union construction workers saw their wages increase, wages for union construction dipped by $3 less per week compared to the previous year. This data does not include fringe benefits such as health insurance and retirement benefits. Nearly all union members receive better medical coverage and retirement benefits than their non-union counterparts, which is not calculated in this survey.
When the earned full-time median weekly income figures are extended to a full year, union construction workers out-earned their non-union counterparts by more than $17,000 last year.