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Union Membership in Construction Inches Up in 2020

February 17, 2021

Union membership across occupations in the construction industry declined from an annual average of 1,055,000 in 2019 to 993,000 in 2020, a drop of 62,000 or 5.9%, according to an annual economic release recently issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”). However, total construction industry employment declined even more, from 8,352,000 to 7,829,000, a drop of 523,000 or 6.3%. As a result, union members’ share of employment inched up from 12.63% to 12.68%.

Interestingly, while union membership inched up, union representation of workers in the industry actually declined over the year.  In 2019, 1,133,000 (13.57%) workers in construction were represented by a union (whether or not union members), while 1,050,000 (13.41%) were represented by a union in 2020.  This is a drop of 83,000 workers or about 7.3%.

BLS also reports on union membership and representation in construction and extraction occupations across industries.  Union membership among workers in such occupations increased from about 17.4% in 2019 to about 17.7% in 2020.  Union representation also increased, from about 18.5% to about 18.7%.

The pandemic had a significant impact on all of these numbers. BLS cautioned, "Data on union members for 2020 reflect the impact on the labor market of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and efforts to contain it. Comparisons with union membership measures for earlier years…should be interpreted with caution. The overall union membership rate and the rates by many demographic and employment characteristics increased despite declines in the number of union members. These increases reflect the disproportionately large decline in total wage and salary employment (mostly among nonunion workers) compared with the decline in the number of union members."

When assessing BLS industry data, note that the data cover surveyed employees at all levels and classifications, including personnel who are not typically organized, such as office staff.  Note also that the data cover all sectors of the industry, including single-family home builders and home improvement firms.

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