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Question of the Month

From the Catherwood Library reference librarians

December 2001

PLEASE NOTE: The Reference Question of the Month is kept current only during the month for which it was written. Archived questions will not be updated, and over time may contain inaccurate information or broken web links. We provide archived questions as a service, since much of the information will remain accurate and of continued interest to the ILR community.

Question: How does the United States compare with other countries in terms of labor union density or membership?

Answer: One of the more convenient sources for this information is:

The Statistical Annex from the World Labour Report 1997-1998 (print edition available in the Catherwood Library HD4811 W92)

Published by the International Labour Organization?s Task Force on Industrial Relations, this report includes the following tables: Trade union membership; Trade union density; Changes in trade union density; Collective bargaining structure; Collective bargaining coverage rates; Number of strikes and lockouts; Workers involved in strikes and lockouts; Workdays not worked as a result of strikes and lockouts. Countries are listed under the categories Africa, Americas, Asia, and Europe.

United States

For detailed information about union membership in the United States, see Union Membership from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From the Union Members Summary, ?The share of wage and salary workers who are union members averaged 13.5 percent in 2000 as compared with 13.9 percent in 1999, the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of union members, 16.3 million, also fell slightly from its 1999 level.

Other International Sources

  • Unpublished International Trade Union Membership Data
    This information on trade union membership is not published by the ILO, but is made available to users on request. The data relate mainly to the official statistics of trade union membership for 45 countries that appear in the national statistical publications received in the ILO Bureau of Statistics.

    Please note that the data are as published by the countries; they have not been adjusted by the Bureau of Statistics to ensure comparability.

    As can be seen from the information provided in the Sources document, there are considerable variations between countries in the methods used to collect the data, the coverage of the figures of trade union membership, the definitions used, and the calculation of trade union density rates. These all affect the way the data can be used, and their comparability between countries and over time.
    International Trade Union Membership Data
    Sources for the Trade Union Membership Data
  • International Labour Organization: Statistical Databases
    On this page, you will find reference to:

    Trade Union Membership: Union. A special database on trade union membership. Based on official figures mainly from national publications, it contains data for 36 countries from 1990 onwards. Requests for small volumes of data which can be extracted directly from our databases in printed form will normally be provided free-of-charge. Requests for data in machine-readable form or for data requiring additional statistical processing by us, regardless of quantity or form of dissemination, will be charged on a marginal cost recovery basis.
  • Data Repository for the Golden-Wallerstein-Lange Project on Unions, Employers, Collective Bargaining and Industrial Relations for 16 OECD Countries, 1950-1992

    This dataset contains mainly annual data on unions, employers, industrial relations and collective bargaining in 16 OECD countries from 1950 to 1992. Countries included are: Austria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the US, and the UK.

    They are updating this data to the year 2000 (available in Summer 2002).

    The dataset is available in .csv format (comma delimited values). It can be read into Excel or into almost any statistical package, including Stata, SAS, and SPSS. A codebook is available to help interpret the dataset.
  • International Reform Monitor
    A project of the Bertelsmann Foundation, this web site provides an up-to-date review of the most recent reforms in social and labour market policy as well as industrial relations in the 15 participating countries. Union density is included in the reported information.

    Click on Country Info from the home page.

    Choose the Industrial Relations tab from the top banner.

    Choose the country from the left banner.

    Trade Union Density is included here with other useful information.
  • Foreign Labor Trends
    This a series of annual country reports on foreign labor conditions, focusing on employment and unemployment, wages, labor-management relations, benefits, and union activity, with population and socioeconomic data. It is published by the Bureau of International Labor Affairs.

    Go to Foreign Labor Trends

    Print copies are available from the Cornell University Library. Use the "Guided Keyword Search" and type:
    foreign labor trends [insert country name here]

    For example:
    foreign labor trends India
    Call number is HD8681 .F71
  • Trade Unions in Western Europe Since 1945, by Bernhard Ebbinghaus and Jelle Visser
    Catherwood Library Reference HD6657 .E335 2000 (accompanying CD-ROM available at Circulation Desk) 

    Includes time series for union membership and union density data for Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. 

Articles/Chapters that Include International Union Membership or Density Data

Many of these documents are in Adobe PDF format , which requires a free reader. Download it here .

— Researched by sac29