UMass Amherst Labor Center Report Finds Bay State Union Workers’ Wages Are over 18 Percent Higher than Non-Union Counterparts

Tom Juravich, professor and interim director of the Labor Center
Tom Juravich, professor and interim director of the Labor Center

AMHERST, Mass. – Union members in Massachusetts enjoy earnings of nearly $4 per hour more than their non-union counterparts—a difference of more than 18 percent—according to new research published by the University of Massachusetts Amherst Labor Center.

The findings, published online in the working paper “The State of Labor and Employment in Massachusetts,” show that the mean average hourly earnings statewide are $25.49 for union workers, compared to $21.53 for non-union workers. The report states that just over 12 percent of all workers in Massachusetts were union members in 2016, placing the state 14th nationwide in terms of union “density.” Unions claimed nearly 382,000 Bay State members in 2016, just over 2,000 more than were members in 2007, but down from the peak of over 476,000 members in 2009. The researchers attribute this to an increase in employment in the service and business sectors, and a decrease in manufacturing and other traditional blue collar jobs.

“The labor movement continues to be a fundamental part of making Massachusetts a better place to work,” says Tom Juravich, co-author of the report and professor of labor studies and sociology and interim director of the UMass Labor Center. “Unions not only bring higher wages to their members, but these wages fuel the economy and unions continue to fight for higher minimum wages and workplace protections that benefit all workers in the Commonwealth.”

The report indicates “a precipitous drop” in the traditionally highly-unionized manufacturing sector resultant from the 2008 economic collapse. The loss of jobs in the computer, semiconductor and electronics fields—core industries that were central to the “Massachusetts miracle” in high-tech that drove the commonwealth’s economy for many years – has been dramatic, and the printing and publishing industries have also seen a significant decline in jobs that were often unionized.

In the private sector, more than 176,000 Massachusetts union members make up 6.4 percent of total workers, on par with the national 6 percent average. While these numbers represent steady year-over-year increases in private sector unionization since 2014, in 2007 more than 193,000 union members represented 7.6 percent of the total private workforce statewide, and in 2009 more than 215,000 union members made up nearly 9 percent of all private sector Massachusetts workers.

The overall number of union members in Massachusetts remains higher than the national average, however, particularly due to strength in the public sector – more than half of all public sector jobs in the state are unionized, and the state has seen a 10 percent overall increase in total public sector union membership since 2007. Major growth in union membership has also taken place in the education field and in service industries such as healthcare, hospitality, professional and business services.

Across the state, the researchers found that African-Americans have the highest unionization rate at just over 15 percent, while white and Hispanic workers are unionized at 12.9 and 12.3 percent, respectively. They also found that Massachusetts has a much higher union density rate among workers with a high school education or less – 12.1 percent – than the 9.1 percent national average.

“Unions have historically played a strong role as an equalizing institution,” Juravich says, “and unions in the Commonwealth continue that role with a higher number of Latino and African-American members that in the U.S. as a whole.”

Finally, the researchers report that the statewide gain in employment due to the recovery from the 2008 downturn has been primarily concentrated in and around the Boston metro area, while Western Massachusetts and rural areas have continued to suffer job losses.

Co-authoring the report with Juravich were Jasmine Kerrissey, assistant professor of sociology at UMass Amherst, and David Pihl, a graduate student in labor studies.

The full report, “The State of Labor and Employmentin Massachusetts,” can be viewed here.