membership a key to health care coverage
to a recent study by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research
Institute (EBRI), union members are much more likely to have
employment-based health insurance than nonunion workers, but
the erosion of union membership is likely to coincide with
an overall decline in the percentage of workers with health
The study reported that 86 percent of union members were covered
by health benefits through their job, compared with 60 percent
of nonunion workers, as of September 2003 (the most recent
data available). Union workers in several private-sector fields
had very high levels of health insurance coverage, as did
union workers in public-sector jobs, the study said. For example:
91 percent of union manufacturing workers had health benefits,
compared with 74 percent for nonunion workers.
88 percent of union workers in agriculture, forestry, fishing,
mining, and construction had coverage, compared with 40
percent for nonunion workers.
84 percent of union wholesale and retail trade workers had
coverage, compared with 55 percent of nonunion workers.
The study, “Union Status and Employment-Based Health
Benefits,” is published in the May EBRI Notes and
is available at the institute’s Web site, www.ebri.org.
Some 17.2 million workers were union members, accounting
for 15 percent of all wage and salary workers ages 18 through
64, as of September 2003. Union workers were typically concentrated
in jobs with high levels of employment-based health coverage.
Union members accounted for 36 percent of public-sector
workers, but 86 percent of union members had health benefits
from their public-sector employers, compared with 68 percent
for nonunion workers.
unionization appears to increase the probability of having
health benefits in the public sector by 26 percent,”
said Dallas Salisbury, EBRI president.
Union membership also had a major impact on the probability
of workers in small firms having health care benefits, the
study said. Eighty-two percent of union members in firms with
fewer than 25 employees had employment-based health benefits,
compared with 36 percent of nonunion workers in firms of the
Overall, only 2.5 percent of union workers were uninsured
in September 2003, compared with 15 percent of nonunion workers.
“Union workers across the board are more likely to have
health benefits than nonunion workers,” the study concluded.
“All else being equal, if unionization in the United
States continues to decline, the percentage of workers with
health benefits will continue to decrease and the percentage
of workers who are uninsured will continue to increase.”