According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics annual Union Members Summary report published January 18, 2019, union membership in the construction industry decreased in 2018.
Just 12.8 percent of wage and salary workers were members of unions in the U.S. private construction industry. That’s a decrease from 14 percent in 2017.
According to BLS, 1.048 million out of 8.169 million (12.8 percent) U.S. construction industry workers belonged to a union in 2018. In 2017, 1.102 million out of 7.844 million U.S. construction industry workers (14 percent) belonged to a union.
In a year-over-year comparison, construction unions lost 54,000 members, even though the U.S. construction industry added 325,000 jobs (7,844,000 construction indstry workers in 2017 vs 8,169,000 in 2018).
Historically, union membership as a percentage of the U.S. construction industry has steadily declined. In 1947, approximately 87 percent of its workforce was unionized.
During the nadir of the construction industry’s recession in 2010, just 801,000 construction industry workers belonged to a union (13.1 percent), the smallest number of union members in recent history.
Updated state-specific union membership information for various U.S. industries, including the construction industry, is available at www.unionstats.com.
Construction Industry Job Growth in 2018
The most recent BLS data puts the construction industry unemployment rate at 5.1 percent, which is a decline from the 5.9 percent unemployment rate in a year-over-year comparison (in February 2010, the unemployment rate was 27.1 percent). Construction employment expanded by 38,000 net new jobs in December and across the industry and employment is up by 280,000 year-over-year, an increase of 4.0 percent.
In addition, construction unemployment rates improved in 44 states in a year-over-year comparison, according to a January 2019 report issued by Associated Builders and Contractors, which releases monthly state-by-state construction economics data here.
The strength and health of the construction industry’s unions can impact the public policy debate surrounding anti-competitive and costly government-mandated project labor agreements.
PLAs typically ensure construction contracts are awarded only to companies that agree to recognize unions as the representatives of their employees on that job; use the union hiring hall to obtain workers at the expense of most or all of its existing qualified employees; obtain apprentices exclusively through union apprenticeship programs; follow inefficient union work rules; pay into union benefit and multi-employer pension plans workers will never benefit from unless they meet vesting requirements; and force workers to pay union dues and/or join a union as a condition of employment.
Discouraging competition from qualified merit shop contractors and their skilled nonunion construction workforce via PLA mandates costs taxpayers a fortune. When mandated by a government agency on taxpayer-funded projects, PLAs drive up the cost of construction projects anywhere from 12 percent and 18 percent, on average, according to a series of academic studies. A study published in May 2017, found Ohio school projects subject to government-mandated PLAs were 13 percent more expensive compared to school projects not built with PLA mandates.
In 2019, ABC will continue to fight for federal, state and local policies that create a level playing field in the procurement of government construction contracts, increase competition, help small businesses grow, curb construction costs and create jobs and opportunities for all Americans and all qualified construction industry businesses.
Advocating for inclusive policies so all Americans and all qualified companies can rebuild America’s infrastructure is a win-win for taxpayers and the U.S. economy.