Two women strikers from Ladies Tailors union on picket line during the garment workers strike, 1910, New York City - Library of Congress
Two women strikers from Ladies Tailors union on picket line during the garment workers strike, 1910, New York City – Library of Congress

The death of unions has been predicted time and again.

Each time a new round of statistics come out, we (me included) try to make some sense of it.

Just check out some of my posts from the last several years.

So, a few weeks back, a new round of statistics was released.

And once again, the latest numbers show big gains for unions in the state.  In 2013, union representation stood at just 220,000 people (or 14.3 percent of the workforce).  By 2015, that number jumped to 277,000 (or 17.4 percent of the workforce).

That represents an increase of nearly 25 percent over the last two years.

Last year, the agency cautioned that the change may not be as large as it appears because “Connecticut has a small sample size in the survey” (according to a Hartford Courant report).

Indeed, Connecticut private businesses expanded employment across all sectors in 2015 by adding 22,600 jobs.  So, the statistics make it seem that nearly all of that gain (and the loss of 400 jobs from the public sector) went to unions.

Something doesn’t add up.

Nevertheless, I think it’s fair to conclude that the unions in the state are more than holding their own in Connecticut.

Nationally, union membership rate stands at 11.1 percent — unchanged from 2014, but down from 20.1 percent since 1983.

 

 

 

The U.S. Department of Labor has released their annual statistics on labor union membership.  Nationwide, union membership is down slightly by .2 percent. In total, about 11 percent of the workforce belongs to a union.  Compared to 2008, when I reported on these statistics, the number is down by a full percentage point.

The numbers for Connecticut tell a slightly different story.  Back in 2006, 246,000 people belonged to a union or 15.6 of the workforce.  But the percentage went up during the recession as unemployment rates skyrocketed.  By 2010, the percentage of union represented employees was up to 17.4 percent, even though the raw numbers of people represented by unions decreased markedly.

Where do things stand now? Unions seem to be making a comeback in the state last year.  Union representation for 2013 stood at just 220,000 people, or 14.3 percent of the workforce. Last year, in 2014, however, that number skyrocketed to 245,000, or 15.7 percent of the workforce.

We can put the statistics in another way: In 2014, union representation in Connecticut last year increased by over 10 percent. That’s a big gain by any measure.  But it still just gets the unions back to where they stood in 2006.

Before we draw too many conclusions, however, I’m still having a hard time having faith in the numbers.  Connecticut released its own private sector employment numbers (without regard to union membership.)

For 2014, approximately 25,700 jobs were created in the private sector (almost the same number projected for union growth by the USDOL.) Are we to assume that only union jobs were created? Or that unions took over previously non-represented individuals in droves? If not, how do we reconcile the big increase from the USDOL?

So, take the statistics with a few grains of salt.

In any event, the statistics continue to show that unions still have a big role to play in the state. Having experienced labor counsel at your side still seems like a good bet for the foreseeable future.

As I indicated a few weeks ago, one of the goals of this blog this year is to stop chasing headlines.   The latest story about the NLRB demonstrates why.

Photo courtesy of Library of Congress circa 1947

Late last month, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals (which, as you might imagine, only covers Washington D.C.) ruled that recess appointments to the NLRB were invalid, calling into question dozens of decisions by the NLRB.  The case, Canning v. NLRB, is not a light read; it’s nearly 50 pages long. 

(As an aside, this recess decision should not be confused with the Connecticut General Assembly’s attempt to have labor law taught in the schools, presumably after recess.)

Unfortunately, the first instinct of some employment law blogs was to treat this decision as some type of watershed moment in history without providing the context for private employers — particularly those without unions. 

A notable exception was a thoughtful post by the Employer Law Report which was quick to note that “since the various appeals courts are not bound to adopt each other’s opinions, the impact will depend on where the NLRB’s decisions are being challenged and how those courts rule.” 

For employers in Connecticut — which falls within the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and not the D.C. Circuit — that means that the decision is notable, but not yet binding. Continue Reading Should Private Employers Still Worry About Unions and What Happens at the NLRB?

UPDATED 2 p.m.

About five weeks ago, I wrote about the new Bureau of Labor Statistics report that showed union membership and representation was down in Connecticut in 2010 from 17.1 percent of the overall workforce to 16.7, or in raw numbers from 265,000 workers to 258,000. 

But I also noted that compared with 2007 (when there were 253,000 union members), there was still an increase in union membership.  In essence, the numbers have remained relatively constant when reviewed over a span of years.

So imagine my surprise at this morning’s headline from the Hartford Courant

Connecticut’s Union Coverage Falls By 17 Percent

Holy Cow! Had I missed something? Uh, no. 

The headline is just outright wrong. (UPDATE: The Courant has revised their website to this new headline "Connecticut’s Union Coverage Falls Slightly In 2010.")  Indeed, when you read the story itself, you can see that the numbers merely show what I previously reported: That the percentage of workers who are union members fell below the 17 percent level.

In actual percentage terms. union membership declined 2.6 percent in 2010.  Considering the reductions in force that occurred in 2010, it’s not surprising to see such a dip. Let’s wait to see the long-term trend before pronouncing a massive decline in unions. 

Mistakes happen, but headline goofs like this only reinforce some people’s perceptions that unions are in much worse shape in Connecticut than they are. 

Are unions are dying breed? The answer to that question often depends on your perspective.  

As we’ve seen in Connecticut, if unions are "dying", they are not going down without a fight.

But statistics just released by the U.S. Department of Labor tell a more complete story.  The statistics show a leveling off of the decline in union membership that’s been ongoing for the last two decades. 

The percentage of workers who belonged to a union in 2007 was 12.1 percentage, up slightly from the 12.0 percent in 2006.  (For comparison, union membership in 1983 was at approximately 20 percent.)

Indeed, unions can claim a 300,000+ union membership increase in 2007.  The full statistics are available from the U.S. Department of Labor on their website. 

The numbers for Connecticut also tell a noteworthy story:

  • In 2006, 247,000 Connecticut workers belong to a union — or 15.6 percent of the workforce.  This is higher than the national average.
  • That number increased slightly in 2007 to 253,000 workers — also 15.6 percent of the workforce.
  • It is unclear from the survey whether this 6,000 worker increase includes the 2600 dealers who voted to unionize at Foxwoods last fall. As readers know, the election results are being appealed now.

For unions, the numbers in Connecticut show a relatively stable unionized workforce and should give them some solace that they are holding their own. And for employers, the numbers are a good reminder that unions still maintain sizable support in the state. 

Unions may be down overall from where they were decades ago, but they remain an important influence in today’s workplace. Whether the numbers will decrease over time depends on so many factors — including the possible passage of the Employee Free Choice Act — that it would be irresponsible to predict what will happen.

But, the next time you read an article about how unions are going the way of the "horse and carriage", just remember that the statistics don’t tell that story — at least not yet.