Employee Benefits for Union and Nonunion Workers

By Wiatrowski, William J. | Monthly Labor Review, February 1994 | Go to article overview
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Employee Benefits for Union and Nonunion Workers


Wiatrowski, William J., Monthly Labor Review


The availability of employee benefits varies, based on factors such as a worker's occupation, industry, geographic location, and hours of work. (1) For example, benefits for white-collar workers may differ from those for blue-collar workers, or benefits may be provided more frequently to full-time workers than to part-time workers. Many of these variations can be identified from data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employee Benefits Survey. For the first time, the survey provides data on employee benefits for union and nonunion workers. These new data indicate variations in participation in benefits between union and nonunion workers. For example:

* Full-time union workers were more likely to participate in a medical care plan than their nonunion counterparts;

* Retirement benefits, particularly traditional defined benefit pension plans, were more prevalent among union workers;

* While short-term disability benefits were widespread for union and nonunion workers, the types of plans differed widely.

Furthermore, the data offer a glimpse into future analysis and comparisons that may be possible using the Employee Benefits Survey.

Over the past decade, the Employee Benefits Survey has expanded to cover all full-time and part-time workers in all private industry establishments and State and local governments.(2) Beginning in 1990, when the survey began collecting data simultaneously with the Bureau's Employment Cost Index, benefits data have been collected by individual occupation.(3) Thus, while data are currently published for broad occupational groups, it is now possible to tabulate the participation in and provisions of benefits provided to workers within specific occupations. This means that characteristics such as whether the occupation is full-time or part-time or union or nonunion are now available.(4)

In the Employee Benefits Survey data collection process, occupations are categorized as union or nonunion. To be categorized as union, occupations must meet all of the following conditions:

* A labor organization must be recognized as the bargaining agent for workers in the occupation (however, it is not necessary for all employees in that occupation to belong to the union);

* wage and salary rates must be determined through collective bargaining or negotiations; and

* settlement terms must be embodied in a signed, mutually-binding collective bargaining agreement.

Benefit participation

Data from the Employee Benefits Survey indicate the percentage of workers who "participate" in a given benefit, that is, they are covered under plan provisions.(5) For this report, participation data were tabulated for full-time employees in private sector establishments with 100 workers or more. These workers represent about 30 percent of the current labor force, but include a large concentration of unionized workers.(6)

One-fourth of the 32 million full-time workers included in the 1991 survey of medium and large establishments were unionized. In general, union workers participated more in benefit plans than did nonunion employees. However, it is difficult to associate such participation with any sense that one group had "better jobs" or "better benefits" than the other. A close examination of participation by type of benefit plan and by requirements to contribute toward plan premiums indicates advantages and disadvantages for both. Furthermore, this analysis does not examine the detailed provisions of benefit plans, which determine the level of benefit provided by plans.(7)

It is difficult to draw conclusions by comparing the percent of union and nonunion workers who participate in any one benefit. Workers' needs, such as disability or retirement income, may be met by a variety of benefits. Thus, it is important to look at all benefits when making comparisons.

Other reasons, such as the mix of industry, occupation, and location of union versus nonunion workers, also may contribute to the differences in the percentage of workers participating in benefit plans.

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