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Most Construction Workers Are Merit Shop in Mass. & New England

Updated: May 9, 2023

Merit shop construction workers represented 83.8% of the Massachusetts construction workforce in 2022, according to the Union Membership and Coverage Database from the Current Population Survey. That represented an uptick from 79.1% in 2021 and slightly exceeded the five-year average of 82.6% for Massachusetts.


In New England, merit shop construction workers were 89.7% of the total workforce in 2022, up from 87.3% the prior year. New England’s five-year merit shop worker average was 87.2%.


The Union Membership and Coverage Database reports on union density across the nation and offers individual state data. While construction union membership can fluctuate year-to-year, long-term trends are clear:

  • In Massachusetts, construction union members were just 17.4% of the workforce in the latest five-year average.

  • In the past 30 years, membership has been on a slow decline, dropping from 25.8% in 1992 to 16.2% in 2022.

  • Rhode Island and Connecticut join Massachusetts for the highest numbers of union members in New England, but none of them exceed 20%.

  • Meanwhile, construction union membership is virtually non-existent among Maine residents and extremely weak across New Hampshire and Vermont.

Why do the numbers matter?


For merit shops, policies that require union-only are unfair, regardless of the number of union members vs. non-union workers. A project labor agreement that discriminates against 1% of the workforce is as unfair as a PLA that blocks 83.8% of the workforce. However, the numbers still matter for a lot of good reasons.


The membership data from an independent source is critical to push back against the inflationary tendances of labor bosses. Organized labor’s representatives are quick to tout the union workforce as large enough to handle big projects. They also claim unions set the standards for construction and so-called “community standards” – whatever that term means. The data clearly shows the community has chosen to not join organized labor.


The relatively small number of union members begs some questions:

  • If being in a union is so great, why does the vast majority of workers decide not to join?

  • Why does organized labor need recruiters if union membership is so great?

The numbers tell the story. Construction workers overwhelmingly choose to work for merit shops. Anyone touting union-only is pro-union and anti-worker.


Inflated Membership Numbers


We have previously shown that organized labor inflates its membership numbers by including retirees as members. Whether you swing a hammer or a golf club, you’re a member.


We made this point last October when carpenters’ union Local 336 reported 1,800 members in the Worcester Business Journal. But according to federal labor filings, Local 336’s active membership is just 75% of its total membership.


That’s something developers and project owners should keep in mind the next time a business agent is touting membership figures. Federal reports, called LM-2s, reveal a different picture of membership and union health. And thanks to the work of Unionstats.com, we know the vast majority of construction workers choose merit shops.




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