by Donna Martinez
Former Senior Writer and Editor, John Locke Foundation
Hats off to the folks at Axios for creating a data map using new Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Axios summarized where we are:
10.3% of workers belonged to a union in 2021, matching 2019’s low. It’s down from 10.6% in 2020, when the share temporarily spiked due to a disproportionate and temporary decrease in total nonunion workers due to pandemic shutdowns.
In its news release, BLS highlighted key data points, which include a reference to North Carolina, which I have emphasized in red below. I’ve also bolded another key fact: education is among the most unionized industry. In North Carolina, that’s the North Carolina Education Association (NCAE). As Dr. Bob Luebke noted recently: “NCAE membership has been declining since 2011-12. In 2019-20 membership in NCAE declined 2.4 percent.”
Back to the BLS data:
Highlights from the 2021 data:
–The union membership rate of public-sector workers (33.9 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than the rate of private-sector workers (6.1 percent). (See table 3.)
–The highest unionization rates were among workers in education, training, and library occupations (34.6 percent) and protective service occupations (33.3 percent). (See table 3.)
–Men continued to have a higher union membership rate (10.6 percent) than women (9.9 percent). The gap between union membership rates for men and women has narrowed considerably since 1983 (the earliest year for which comparable data are available), when rates for men and women were 24.7 percent and 14.6 percent, respectively. (See table 1.)
–Black workers remained more likely to be union members than White, Asian, or Hispanic workers. (See table 1.)
–Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 83 percent of earnings for workers who were union members ($975 versus $1,169). (The comparisons of earnings in this news release are on a broad level and do not control for many factors that can be important in explaining earnings differences.) (See table 2.)
–Among states, Hawaii and New York continued to have the highest union membership rates (22.4 percent and 22.2 percent, respectively), while South Carolina and North Carolina continued to have the lowest (1.7 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively). (See table 5.)
North Carolina is a right-to-work state. The impact of that fact is illustrated above. Worker freedom matters. This year, we will celebrate a major milestone in our right-to-work history.
“The right to live includes the right to work.”
That simple statement opens the text of a state law that has helped boost North Carolina’s economic competitiveness for nearly 75 years.
The state will mark the milestone 75th anniversary of its right-to-work law on March 18, 2022.
“Research continues to indicate that right-to-work states not only create more jobs than their counterparts, but workers in those states report higher life satisfaction,” said John Locke Foundation President Donald Bryson. “North Carolina is on the verge of its diamond anniversary of seeing these benefits.”
Approved in 1947, as the state and nation emerged from the great economic dislocation associated with World War II, the law set boundaries on labor union activity in the Tar Heel State.
It banned the “closed shop,” an arrangement in which union membership is a necessary part of getting and keeping a job. The law also banned a “union shop,” in which an employer could hire nonunion workers as long as they joined the union within a certain time period. The law prohibited the mandatory collection of union dues by employers through payroll deductions.
The federal Taft-Hartley Act, approved by Congress three months later in June 1947, ensured that North Carolina’s labor policy could prevail even if federal policies tilted more toward a pro-union stance.