Union Membership In Ohio Remains Steady, Higher Than U.S. Average

In this file photo, members of the Westlake Teachers Association display signs before a meeting of the Westlake City Schools Board of Education in May 2016. [Michelle Faust/ ideastream]
According to a new report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the union membership rate of public-sector workers (34.4 percent) continued to be more than five times higher in 2017 than that of private-sector workers (6.5 percent). In this file photo, members of the Westlake Teachers Association display signs before a meeting of the Westlake City Schools Board of Education in May 2016. [Michelle Faust/ ideastream]
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For the fifth year in a row, the number of unionized workers in Ohio remained relatively stable, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual summary of union membership. The data, released Friday, shows that union membership increased slightly from 12.4 percent in 2016 to 12.5 percent in 2017.

The state’s rate of union participation was higher than the U.S. average of 10.7 percent.

“I think it’s great news” said Amy Hanauer, Executive Director of the progressive-leaning think tank Policy Matters Ohio, “because [unionized workers] generally make higher wages and have more of a say in their workplace.”

The long term trend for union membership in Ohio is still down, however, with the number of union participation about 11 percent lower than it was a decade ago.

Still, the proportion of Ohioans in a union (approximately 1-in-8) hasn't really changed since 2012. Hanauer said she’d like to see the government do more to push that ratio higher.

For instance, she said, governments could require the companies it contracts with have union-friendly policies. That would encourage union participation, which would help more workers bargain for better wages, Hanauer said.

But she worries memberships could drop if Statehouse Republicans pass a so-called "right-to-work" bill. House Bill 53 would hinder the ability of public sector unions to collect fees from nonmembers, and she said that could hurt unions' bargaining power. But supporters of the bill call it a matter of personal freedom.

“You shouldn't be forced to pay for speech you disagree with as a condition for employment, particularly if you're a public servant,” said Robert Alt, President of the conservative Buckeye Institute, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief last summer in a U.S. Supreme Court case examining the constitutionality of the practice. Alt said he is not opposed to unions, but believes the choice to contribute financially to a union must be a voluntary choice.

In effect, he argued, "it has a positive effect of making unions more responsive to the needs and desires of the workers. That makes the unions, ultimately, I think, more effective."

Here are some more stats that defined unions in 2017:

The union membership rate of public-sector workers (34.4 percent) continued to be more than five times higher than that of private-sector workers (6.5 percent).

Among occupational groups, the highest unionization rates in 2017 were in protective service occupations, including firefighters and police (34.7 percent) and in education, training, and library occupations (33.5 percent). However, the rate for workers in education, training, and library occupations continued to decline in 2017.

• Unionization rates were lowest in sales and related occupations (3.2 percent); farming, fishing, and forestry occupations (3.4 percent); food preparation and serving related occupations (3.8 percent).

• Men continued to have a higher union membership rate (11.4 percent) than women (10 percent).

• Black workers remained more likely to be union members than White, Asian, or Hispanic workers.

• Nonunion workers had median weekly earnings that were 80 percent of  earnings for workers who were union members ($829 versus $1,041).

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