By Anna Louie Sussman

Unionized labor represents an ever-smaller share of the American workforce, having fallen to 11.1% in 2014, down from 20.1% in 1983, according the U.S. Labor Department. But as men’s union membership fallen steeply, women, and particularly women of color, have been the majority of new organized workers. Their presence could shift labor’s agenda.

The growing female union presence dates back at least to the 1980s, when many public sector jobs became unionized, said Kate Bronfenbrenner, the director of labor education research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. One 2014 study by the left-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research forecast that women will be the majority of unionized workers by 2025.

Union membership goes a long way toward closing the gender pay gap: A new analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that women in unions have median weekly earnings 31% higher, on average, than nonunion workers. Even controlling for other factors that influence wages, such as education and age, women in unions still have a 13% “union advantage” over their nonunion counterparts in the same jobs, which translates to around $2.50 per hour, the 2014 study by CEPR found.

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