In the 12 months that ended in June, the rate of nationwide union membership as a part of the work force fell from 12.4 percent to 12.1 percent, according to a new report from the UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, The State of the Unions in 2010: A Profile of Union Membership in Los Angeles, California and the Nation. For California, membership dropped from 18.3 percent to 17.6 percent over that year. In the five-county Los Angeles metropolitan area, unionization fell by a full point, from 17.5 percent to 16.5 percent.
California accounts for about 16 percent of the nation’s nearly 15 million union members. But the rate of unionization is higher in nine other states (New York, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, New Jersey, Michigan, Rhode Island, Illinois, and Connecticut).
Earlier in the recession, jobs were lost in great numbers, but these were mostly not union jobs. That dynamic has changed, according to Lauren Appelbaum, the report's lead author.
The report also noted another change:
Despite consistently lower unionization rates in the private sector than in the public sector, the much larger size of the private sector workforce has meant that there have traditionally been a larger number of union workers in the private sector. This has now changed. For the first time ever, the number of union members in the public sector is greater than the number of private sector union members.
Unions are under attack from Republicans and other right wingers just as they have been since before they got the legal right to organize and bargain collectively 75 years ago. But public unions, particularly teachers unions, are getting punched hardest. And as election day nears, it worsens. For instance, Republican Meg Whitman, running for California governor against Democrat Jerry Brown, whom she says was "bought" by "big labor," has pledged to lay off 40,000 public-sector workers if she wins the election.
The big complaint: union workers get better pay, better benefits, better job protection and health coverage. Nationwide, union workers made $4.30 an hour more than non-union workers during the year covered by the report. Well, duh. It's practically criminal, ain't it? If these damned unions weren't around everybody could be paid less, live without benefits and get fired for no reason without anybody putting up a fuss.
The report came as no surprise to members of the Service Employees International Union, who gathered Monday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels to celebrate a Labor Day Mass.
Marta Escobar, a single mother of four, was one of 16 janitors who lost their jobs last month cleaning two office towers owned by JPMorgan Chase in Century City. She said she spent years cleaning homes and is particularly concerned about losing the benefits that come with a union job, including healthcare for her younger children.
"The job is really important for me because it means I can offer my kids a future," Escobar said. "Nothing extravagant, but a future."
While the unionization of janitors was a major success story for SEIU, such workers have not been typical of union membership in California or elsewhere for several decades:
For the country as a whole, unionization rates go up with the amount of formal education and at 14.1%, the unionization rate is highest for workers with a college degree. In California and Los Angeles, workers with some college as well as those with a college degree have higher unionization rates than those with less education. About one-fifth of workers with some college or a college degree are unionized in both California and Los Angeles. Whereas decades ago the archetypal union member was a blue collar worker with limited education, today mid-level professionals are much more likely to be unionized than anyone else, especially in sectors like educational services and public administration. However, even highly educated workers have been affected by the recession and unionization rates for college educated workers have decreased compared to last year.
Among the report's other findings:
• Nationwide, men are unionized at a 1.7 percent higher rate than women. But in California, women are unionized at 18.1 percent and men at 17.1 percent.
• African Americans are more unionized than whites, with Asian Americans and Latinos and the least unionized. Part of that is because the latter two groups are more likely to be foreign-born, a major factor in whether a person joins a union or not.
• There is a huge difference in the percentage of workers who are unionized in California and nationwide. Whites: 19.4 percent/12.3 percent. Blacks: 24.9 percent/13.8. Asians: 16.6 percent/11.8 percent. Latinos: 14.3 percent/9.8 percent.