Report: The face of union membership in California has changed over the last two decades

Findings from the UC Berkeley Labor Center note union members include more women and people of color

A study from the UC Berkeley Labor Center indicates union membership in California is no longer overwhelmingly white and male – much changed from 20 years ago.

Findings in the California Union Membership and Coverage Chartbook are the result of a detailed look at U.S. Census data and include:

  • Women comprise half of the state’s 2.5 million union members.
  • The majority of union members in California are people of color.
  • Half of all union members in California work in the public sector.
  • The number of union workers in California has been stable over the last 20 years – as membership has fallen in the rest of the country.
  • In the same 20-year period, California experienced declines in union density in some industries including transportation and utilities, manufacturing, and construction. These declines were partially offset by increases in union density in health care and other smaller industries, as well as in the public sector.

Approximately, 2.8 million California workers are covered by union contracts while 2.5 million of these workers are union members. Labor union membership is opt-in and voluntary.

Savannah Hunter, a research and policy associate with the Labor Center, notes in a snapshot of California union membership, “These numbers underestimate union membership in the state because more than half a million unionized in-home supportive services (IHSS) workers and around 33,400 unionized family child care providers, who are primarily women and workers of color, are undercounted or missing in the CPS data.”

The study also finds there is more diversity among union members in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles Metro Area than California as a whole.

In a statement announcing the findings, Yvonne Wheeler, president of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, says, “The L.A. labor movement’s strength is in our diversity. These statistics tell a story that we already know well here in Los Angeles – the workers pushing our movement forward [including] hospitality workers, airport workers, government workers, nurses, janitors, teachers – are women, immigrants, and people of color.”

Adds Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center, “While some of these changes might be due to the growing number of women and people of color in the California workforce as a whole, they also point to a conscious effort by the labor movement to organize immigrants, women, and people of color, particularly in service industries.”

Hunter states, “The data alone cannot predict union growth in the coming years, but public support for unions is at the highest point since the mid-1960s and actions by workers in the state are increasing.”

She adds, “It’s not your grandfather’s union anymore.”

Read here for more details – California Union Membership and Coverage Chartbook and Snapshot of California union membership.

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