Union Membership Boosts Health Coverage

May 9, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com)-The probability that a worker can get employment-based health coverage increases, sometimes significantly, if that worker is a union member, according to a new study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

EBRI examined the most recent comprehensive data available (September 2003), and it showed that 86% of union members were covered by health benefits through their job, compared with just 60% of nonunion workers.

The increased likelihood of coverage was evidenced across both private and public sectors. For instance, in manufacturing 91% of union workers had health coverage, compared to 74% of nonunion. Wholesale and retail trade workers had greater differences, with 84% of union workers receiving health care coverage, compared with just over half (55%) of nonunion workers. However, the greatest difference in union versus nonunion workers was seen among the agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining, and construction workers, where the gap was 88% compared to 40%, respectively.

Job Concentration

The study noted that union workers tend to be concentrated in jobs that generally offer high levels of employment-based health coverage, but also noted a disparate impact of union membership in the public sector as well as at small employers. Thirty-six percent of public-sector workers were union members, but 86% of them received health benefits, compared to 68% of nonunion workers receiving similar benefits. In firms with fewer than 25 employees, 82% of union members received health benefits from their employer, compared to 36% of nonunion workers at similarly sized companies.

Overall, a scant 2.5% of union workers were uninsured in September 2003, compared with the 15% of nonunion workers. However, the study cautions, as union membership continues to decline, as seen in data provided by the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, so likely will the number of workers with health coverage. According to the data, 15% of all wage and salary workers ages 18 through 64 were union members, as of September 2003, a figure that decreased to 12.5% in 2004.

The study is published in the May EBRI Notes, which is available on the Web at www.ebri.org .