JONATHAN COHN AUGUST 11, 2010
Unions are often associated with blue-collar work--auto manufacturing, plumbing and steelworking, for example. But today's union members aren't working on the railroad. They're working for the government. Public-sector employees compose:
51.6 percent of union members
For the first time, public-sector union membership exceeded private-sector membership, according to data compiled by Professors David Macpherson and Barry Hirsch, "despite there being 5 times more wage and salary workers in the private sector." Over the past four decades, the composition of unions has shifted dramatically. In 1973, 39.5 percent of construction workers were unionized. In 2009, only 14.5 percent were. In the public sector, the trend went in the opposite direction--from 23 percent in 1973 to 37.4 percent in 2009. Overall, just 7.2 percent of private-sector workers are represented by unions.
Today's unions aren't like the unions of a generation or two ago. That, in part, probably explains the disappearing private-sector pensions Jon discussed yesterday.