Union membership rates ticked up in the U.S., and in New Jersey, in 2020. But it may be more a case of flattering to deceive than a fillip to organized labor, with the coronavirus pandemic contributing to the somewhat illusory numbers.
Here’s some context provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: “Data on union members for 2020 reflect the impact on the labor market of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and efforts to contain it … The overall union membership rate … 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.”
Nationwide, 14.3 million wage and salary workers were union members in 2020, down by 321,000 (2.2%) from 2019. At the same time, 9.6 million wage and salary workers — most of them nonunion — lost their jobs. Thus, the disproportionately large decline in total wage and salary employment (6.7%) compared with the decline in the number of union members translated to an increase in the union membership rate, up 0.5% to 10.8% of the nationwide workforce.
In New Jersey, 600,000 workers carried a union card in 2020, accounting for 16.1% of wage and salary workers. The corresponding figures for 2019 were 642,000 union workers, representing 15.7% of the total workforce.