Public Sector Outpaces Private in Union Membership Growth

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graphThe U.S. Department of Labor Statistics’ report on union members in 2011 has revealed that the public sector outpaces the private sector in number of employees belonging to unions. Unionized public-sector employees numbered 7.6 million members for the year while private-sector workers numbered 7.2 million members. These populations equate to a rate of 37 percent unionization within the public sector and 6.9 percent unionization within the private sector.

The highest membership rate in the public sector were found within local government workers (43.2 percent), which includes employees working occupations such as teachers, police officers, and firefighters. The most highly-unionized industries within the private sector included the transportation and utilities industry with 21.1 percent participation and the construction industry with 14 percent participation. Agriculture and related industries recorded the sectors lowest level of unionization at 1.4 percent with the financial industry in a close second place at 1.6 percent.

The unionization rates for the highest occupational groups include: education, training, and library occupations (36.8 percent) and protective services (34.5 percent). The occupational groups reported the lowest rates of unionization include: farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (3.4 percent) and sales and sales-related occupations (3 percent). Additionally, rates of male membership outpaced the female membership rate at 12.4 percent to 11.2 percent. This gap has narrowed by nearly 10 percent since data collection began in 1983. Rates for both genders fell in 2011 with union membership for men falling 12.3 percent and union membership for women falling 3.4 percent.

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Rachel, writer for, has graduate level work in literature and currently works in university administration.