By Murtaza Baxamusa
There were about 185 thousand union members in San Diego, based on surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2016. About 110 thousand of these workers are in the private sector. There are additionally 20 thousand workers covered by union contracts in the region. The continuing employment recovery in the last two years contributed to an increase in union membership.
Union density is the share of workers that are union members. It is an important measure of union prevalence that determines the impact of collective bargaining agreements on area-wide labor wages and benefits. In 2016, union density was 12.9 percent for all workers in San Diego. It was about 6.2 percent in the private sector and 45.5 in the public sector in San Diego. Union membership rate in California stayed almost constant at 15.9 percent since membership grew by 65,000 members at the same pace as the overall employment.
Source: UnionStats.com, by Barry T. Hirsch and David A. Macpherson; Current Population Survey, U.S. Census Bureau; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. All employed civilian wage and salary workers, ages 16 and over are included. However, employed 14-15 year-olds, self-employed workers, or unpaid family workers are not included.
The challenging time that San Diego’s labor movement had during the last economic boom is reflected in the falling density during 2005-2007. The above chart shows, however, that San Diego bucked national and statewide trends by stabilizing the decline, and then seeing a gradual increase in both union membership and density through the post-recession economic cycle from 2008 through 2012. In 2012, union membership and union density reached a peak, setting a record high since 1988. However, the recent trends suggest that union density in the San Diego metropolitan region appears to be trailing the statewide average by about 3 percentage points during the past three years.
The relative decline in union density in San Diego since 2012, relative to state average and other metros was also captured by the UCLA State of the Unions reports that uses the same data source but slightly different methodology. The analysis for each year covers a 12-month period from July through June of the respective year, and the weighted sample similarly includes all employed (but not self-employed) civilian wage and salary workers age 16 and over.
Sources: UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, State of the Unions: 2005 through 2015. Comparative data compiled by the author.
The last report confirms that San Diego has reverted to being the metro with the lowest union density among its peers in California.
Murtaza Baxamusa, PhD, AICP, is the Director of Planning and Development for the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council Family Housing Corporation, and teaches community planning at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California (USC). He received his doctoral degree in planning from USC, and is certified by the American Planning Association.