What was the pandemic’s impact on union membership?

Preliminary data suggests that unionized workers fared better during the pandemic in terms of job security. 

According to an analysis of data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted by the Washington-based labor think tank Economic Policy Institute, union workers suffered fewer job losses, particularly in the leisure and hospitality industry, as well as retail, health care and social assistance jobs. 

At the same time, the state’s unionization rate rose, not because there were more union jobs, but because there were fewer jobs overall. In California, the membership rate rose to 16.2% in 2020 from 15.1% in 2019 but that was because the workforce shrank by 1.4 million workers — and a bulk of those jobs lost were non-union.

The pandemic disproportionately impacted the restaurant, leisure and hospitality industries, which generally have lower union participation.

California’s reopening has since triggered a labor shortage, prompting employers to raise wages. Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage, which advocates for higher service industry wages, said she’s heard of restaurant workers earning $25 an hour in Los Angeles, far above the state’s minimum wage.

Jayaraman said there’s unprecedented interest among restaurant workers for better work conditions and wages — with or without a union.    

-Melissa Montalvo