The number and percentage of workers represented by a union in Wisconsin hit the highest levels since 2014, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The annual report estimated 264,000 workers in Wisconsin were represented by unions, up from 245,000 in 2019. It is the highest level since 2014 when 327,000 workers were represented by unions. Wisconsin instituted its right-to-work law in 2015.
As a percentage of the workforce, 10.2% of workers were represented by unions, up from 9.1% the previous year and the highest since 12.4% of workers were represented by unions in 2014.
While the number of union-represented workers increased, the percentage figures also benefit from a lower total number of workers. The BLS data says the state had 2,592,000 wage and salary workers last year, down from nearly 2.7 million in 2019.
Union membership also increased, although not quite as quickly as representation did. The number of union members went from 218,000 in 2019 to 227,000 last year. The roughly 4.2% increase lagged behind the 7.8% increase in representation.
The membership figure is the highest total since 2017, when 230,000 workers in the state were union members.
In percentage terms, 8.7% of workers were union members last year, up from 8.1% in 2019. Last year’s figure was the highest since 2014 when 11.7% of workers were union members.
Tom Bennett, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 200 in Milwaukee, said the union saw increased awareness last year, particularly when it came to health care benefits and wages. Local 200 also benefited from an increase in demand for essential workers because of the pandemic.
“The business model and theory of large corporations of “do more with less” caught employers off guard and the realization to add essential workers was necessary,” Bennett said in an email.
He noted that the increase in ecommerce has increased demand for union work in the transportation industry and continued new construction in southeastern Wisconsin benefited workers in the construction trades.
“Not all was good in the employment world as some union employers here in Milwaukee could not overcome the negative impact of COVID-19 based on their presence or fierce competition in the global market. At Local 200, we had a few employers face slowdowns, a few plant closures resulting in permanent layoffs,” Bennett noted.