A new study released today finds that organized labor plays a vital role  in Minnesota’s economy and communities. The study, The State of the Unions 2017: A Profile of Unionization in Minnesota and in America, was conducted by the Midwest Economic Policy Institute, the University of Illinois Project for Middle Class Renewal, and the University of Minnesota.

The report finds that labor unions increase individual incomes by lifting hourly wages. On average, unions raise worker wages by 8.0 percent in the state. The wage effect, however, is even larger for low-income workers.

  • The union wage premium is higher for the median income worker (10.7 percent) than the richest 10 percent of workers (7.2 percent).
  • The union wage premium is particularly high for middle-class occupations, such as construction and extraction careers (30.6 percent), transportation and material moving jobs (25.2 percent), and service positions (12.3 percent).
  • Unions help sustain a strong middle class and reduce income inequality.

Unions also help to close racial and gender income gaps in the state.

  • Unions increase the wages of white workers by 7.4 percent but boost the hourly earnings of non-white workers by 13.9 percent.
  • The personal benefit to being a union member is 7.7 percent for men and 8.7 percent for women.
  • Unions are one of the most effective anti-poverty institutions in Minnesota.

Unfortunately, unionization has declined in Minnesota and in America since 2007.

  • There are approximately 36,000 fewer union members in Minnesota today than there were in 2007.
  • The decline in union membership has occurred in both the public sector and the private sector.
  • The total number of labor unions and similar labor organizations declined from 324 to 314 worker establishments from 2006 to 2015.

As of 2016, the overall union membership rate is 14.2 percent in Minnesota:

  • The number of union members has increased from 351,000 in 2012 to about 364,000 in 2016.
  • Workers 45 to 54 years of age are the most unionized age cohort, with a union membership rate of 17.3 percent.
  • Approximately 15.9 percent of workers who reside in the city center are unionized, 15.4 percent of workers who reside in rural areas are unionized, and 12.8 percent of workers who reside in the suburbs are unionized.
  • By educational attainment, the most unionized workers in Minnesota hold Master’s degrees (29.9 percent) and associate’s degrees (17.3 percent).

Almost one half of all public sector workers are unionized in Minnesota. In comparison, just one-in-12 (8.3 percent) Minnesotans who work in the private sector are union members.

Union membership is influenced by a number of factors. Employment in the public sector, in construction, in transportation and utilities, in mining, in information, in educational and health services, and public administration all raise the chances that a given worker is a union member. On the other hand, workers employed in sales, management, business, financial, and professional positions, and those with professional or doctorate degrees are less likely to be unionized.

Unions play a vital role in Minnesota’s economy and communities. Although the Minnesota labor movement will continue to face both short- and long-term challenges that will define unions’ effectiveness in decades to come, the vibrant 15 Now Minnesota movement has increased activism and organizing in the state. As a result of the movement’s efforts, Minneapolis has adopted a $15 minimum wage ordinance, while St. Paul has joined Minneapolis in passing paid sick leave ordinances. While reversing the trend of declining union membership rates remain a critical if uncertain task, Minnesota’s organizing efforts have lifted thousands of workers’ wages, improved employee benefits, and provided workers with necessary paid time off.

Read the study here.