Washington’s union membership increase driven by public sector

Union membership in Washington increased in 2016, as Opportunity Washington noted a few weeks ago. Professors Barry Hirsch of Georgia State University and David Macpherson of Trinity University have since updated their data, which includes a break out of public sector and private sector unionization rates by state.

In 2016, the total union membership rate in Washington was 17.4 percent, up from 16.8 percent in 2015. The increase was driven by public sector unionization. Washington’s public sector unionization rate was 54.0 percent in 2016, up from 46.1 percent in 2015. Meanwhile, Washington’s private sector unionization rate was 10.0 percent in 2016, down from 11.0 percent in 2015.

Private sector employment in Washington increased 3.3 percent in 2016, while the number of private sector union members decreased by 5.6 percent. Public sector employment increased by 5.7 percent and the number of public sector union members increased by 23.8 percent.

As shown in the table below, Washington’s total unionization rate was fifth highest in the country in 2016, its private sector union member rate was fourth highest, and its public sector unionization rate was sixth highest. (Click on the table and chart for larger versions.)

Speaking of unions, David Rolf of SEIU 775 writes about their future:

The next labor movement won’t consist of unions as we currently know them in the U.S.  It won’t be based on contract bargaining at the enterprise level or exclusive representation. It must be based on a value proposition to incentivize voluntary membership (as well as other revenue sources). It must have the power to impact workers lives economically.  And it must be able to scale and touch millions of American workers.

Also, Andrew Stern (formally of SEIU) and Eli Lehrer of the R Street Institute write in National Affairs about labor law:

. . . the fundamental federal rules governing employer-worker relations were written for a different era. The law was written for industrial-era workers doing routine, often physically demanding work on set shift schedules. . . .

These arrangements may have been appropriate in the mid-20th century, but we need a discussion about whether they remain appropriate in the 21st-century economy. Indeed, it's possible to argue both that current laws are too inflexible for those who own enterprises and too restrictive on those who try to organize workers to defend their own interests.

They argue that waivers from federal labor law should be allowed so that states may experiment.

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