Indiana’s thriving construction and automotive sectors have resulted in an increase in union membership in the state, going against the grain of a national decline in organized labour.
Indiana had 304,000 union members in 2016, a 6.9 percent increase over the 283,000 members the state had in 2015, according to newly released U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, NWI.com reported. Impressively, union membership has increased three times in four years, even after the state legislature passed “right-to-work” legislation in 2012, defying expectations about the legislation, which makes it harder for workers to organize.
“In Indiana there has been a clear rise in unionization rates since 2012,” NWI.com reported Indiana University Northwest assistant professor of economics Micah Pollak as saying.
About 10.4 percent of Indiana’s workforce was composed of dues-paying union members in 2016, up from 10 percent in 2015. An estimated 335,000 workers – or 11.4 percent of the workforce – were represented by unions whether they pay dues or not, up from the 319,000 Hoosier workers who were represented by unions in 2015.
Indiana University Bloomington labor studies professor Joseph Varga told the publication that unions have retained members despite those members having the option of opting out of dues under the right-to-work law.
“One factor is the diligent work of the unions in Indiana in maintaining their membership in spite of the implementation of right-to-work, which did not effect most contracts until recently,” Varga said. “Second, Indiana and Illinois have both experienced good increases in union hiring in the construction trades, which are heavily unionized. The slight increases in hiring in the auto industry may have helped as well, increasing UAW membership at Big Three plants.”
Union workers earn 25 percent more than non-union workers, and the rise in union workers could be related to stagnant incomes, Pollak said.
“One possibility is the lack of a strong economic recovery for the middle class,” he said. “Unionization rates are generally counter-cyclical. Union membership generally decreases when the economy is improving and increases when the economy declines.”