What do you think of when you hear the words "union member"? If you immediately picture a white, middle-aged man working in a factory or on a construction site, then it might be worth taking a broader look at America's union membership.
Union demographics have been steadily shifting over time — and evaluating the current landscape is crucial to meeting the changing needs of your members.
Trends Show Shifts in Labor Union Demographics
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the union membership rate for women has increased steadily since the 1980s. Around 11.1% of working men are union members. Women workers are catching up — 9.9% are part of a union. Workers of color, particularly African American workers, are the most likely to be represented by a union, and union membership rates are highest among workers between the ages of 45 and 64.
Union demographics will keep shifting as new industries draw workers from different backgrounds into union membership. The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union — a union with a history of representing meat packers and grocery store workers — recently added cannabis workers to its membership ranks. Most workers in the cannabis industry are under the age of 30, so they often seek benefit options tailored to younger workers in addition to the health care benefits most unions traditionally offer.
Changing Demographics Require New Communication Methods
These dramatic demographic shifts mean that union leaders should regularly assess whether they're successfully communicating with members about how to meet their health care needs. Because health care can be a complicated and sensitive subject, aim to discuss health plan considerations in ways that are comfortable and accessible for them. Millennials are generally most comfortable receiving information through mobile devices, for instance; Generation Z, on the other hand, overwhelmingly prefers to communicate face to face.
As the number of young women who join the ranks of union members continues to increase, it becomes even more vital to offer benefits that meet their needs. Not only do many women need access to benefits such as maternity leave and fertility treatments, but they also need to know that they won't be retaliated against for using these benefits.
Remember, too, to look for opportunities to make health plan materials more accessible for multilingual members. For example, unions that have large numbers of members who are immigrants may want to translate materials into members' native languages to provide them a more nuanced understanding of their options. It's also important to provide English language health care benefit materials that are suitable for people with a limited comprehension of English.
These strategies ensure your members can access the health care information they need to confidently enroll in a health plan, from how coverage works to deadlines for joining or renewing a plan.
The face of union membership is still changing, even now. To meet the needs of all of their members, trustees and other union leaders must be prepared to fight for better and more comprehensive access to health care services to meet the needs of all of their members. Laying the groundwork for accessible care and clear communications ensures that the union continues to be a supportive and engaging force for members' health, happiness and success well into the future.
Julia Passwater is a freelance writer based in Indianapolis, Indiana. Passwater earned a bachelor's degree in Political Science from Indiana University Bloomington, and she earned a Juris Doctor degree from Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. After earning her law degree, Passwater spent over a decade enforcing federal employment laws for the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Today, Passwater writes about topics such as politics, government, employment law and work in the 21st century.