Union density increases in Minnesota. Unionization rates Increase Nationally.

According to US Bureau of Labor Statistics Report Minnesota’s union membership rate increased from 13.7% (364,000) of the workforce in 2019 to 15.8% (398,000) in 2020, jumping from having the 12th to the 10th highest union density in the nation.

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy issued the following statement in response.

“Despite a raging pandemic for most of the year that put thousands of Minnesotans out of work, working Minnesotans stood up in record numbers to assert their rights to join together and negotiate for a fair return on their work, safer jobsites, dignity, and respect.

Further stating that, “We call on Minnesota’s Congressional delegation to support the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act to secure Americans’ freedom to join together.”

An examination of the same data by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) shows that while unionization levels dropped nationally in 2020, unionization rates rose because union workers have seen less job loss than non-union workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Where workers have been able to act collectively and bargain through their union, they have been able to secure enhanced safety measures, additional premium pay, and paid sick time, during the pandemic,” said EPI Director of Policy Heidi Shierholz. “Due to this, unionized workers have had a voice in how their employers have navigated the pandemic, including negotiating for terms of furloughs or work-share arrangements to save jobs. This likely played a role in limiting overall job loss among unionized workers.”

Researchers at EPI also point out that another factor explaining these figures is that industries with lower unionization rates, like leisure and hospitality, have tended to experience the most job loss during the pandemic, while sectors with higher unionization rates, like the public sector, have tended to see less job loss. 

Further analysis of the data reveals that 12.3% of men and 11.8% of women were represented by a union in 2020. While women experienced more job loss than men over the last year, the number of women in unions declined less (a decline in unionization of 31,000 among women and 413,000 among men).

Of all major racial and ethnic groups, Black workers have the highest unionization rates, at 13.9%. This compares to 12.0% for white workers, 11.0% for Hispanic workers, and 10.0% for Asian workers. In 2020, Black workers experienced the largest rate of decline in employment but the largest increase in the rate of unionization. This was likely due to in large part to composition effects—for example, women and Black workers are disproportionately concentrated in leisure and hospitality, which has seen large job loss but has low unionization rates, and in the public sector, which has seen less job loss and has higher unionization rates.

“The Biden administration and Congress must institute policies that promote union representation and collective bargaining as we rebuild our post-pandemic economy and workforce,” said Celine McNicholas, EPI Director of Government Affairs. “Unions played an invaluable role in fighting for health and safety measures during the pandemic, and but they have been under attack by corporate interests for decades. The Biden administration and the new Congress must make passing the PRO Act and other crucial labor law reforms a main priority.”

Filiberto Nolasco Gomez is a former union organizer and former editor of Minneapolis based Workday Minnesota, the first online labor news publication in the state. Filiberto focused on longform and investigative journalism. He has covered topics including prison labor, labor trafficking, and union fights in the Twin Cities.

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