The State of the Unions in 2009: A Profile of Union Membership in Los Angeles, California and the Nation

Source: Lauren D. Appelbaum, Ben Zipperer, UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, September 2009

Unionization patterns in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and in California are similar in many respects to those in the United States as whole. At the same time, however, the labor movement in the nation’s most populous state and in that state’s largest metropolis has some distinctive features. Most important among these differences is the trend in overall levels of unionization since the mid-1990s. The unionization rate in the United States declined steadily for several decades and is now only showing slight increases. However, it has been relatively stable or even increasing in Los Angeles and California. The last three years have seen significant increases in unionization rates in both California and Los Angeles. This reflects the region’s unusual labor history and its relatively high public-sector unionization rate, as well as the fact that manufacturing (the sector in which unionization has declined most sharply nationally) has historically been less important in the region’s economy than was the case in other parts of the nation. For detailed analysis of the distinctive features of L.A. and California labor, see Ruth Milkman and Daisy Rooks, “California Union Membership: A Turn-of-the-Century Portrait,” The State of California Labor 2003, and Ruth Milkman, L.A. Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2006). Finally, government, health and education are the only industries in which there have been increases in jobs during the economic downturn of the last 20 months. The loss of so many private sector jobs may have contributed to the relative increase in unionized workers, since public sector jobs have higher rates of unionization than does private sector employment.

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