In the summer of 2018, EAB’s Facilities Forum polled Facilities leaders across higher ed institutions in the United States and Canada about the unionization rates of their teams. The survey asked partners to identify the degree to which their division was unionized and to specify which units were fully, partially, or not unionized.
The majority of colleges and universities (69%) reported some degree of unionization within their Facilities department. Most commonly, 36% of these departments reported having “very high levels of unionization,” defined as 80-100% unionization across the Facilities staff. Fifteen percent of institutions reported having “high unionization” rates (between 40-79% unionized) and 28% reported having “some unionization” (between 1-39% unionized).
Knowing that most Facilities departments have some degree of unionization, here’s how unionization rates vary between institution types, regions, and departments.
Institutional type and size has small impact on unionization rates
Facilities unionization rates don’t vary widely between public and private institutions. While 71% of public institutions reported some level of unionization, private institutions are not far behind at 64%.
Similarly, rates of unionization don’t differ greatly between large institutions (10,000 students or more) and small-to-mid-sized institutions (less than 10,000 students). Large institutions reported that 70% of Facilities was unionized to some degree while 61% of small-to-mid-sized institutions reported the same. However, larger institutions are more likely to have very high rates of unionization (38% compared to 28%).
Unionization rates vary substantially by campus location
All the Canadian institutions surveyed reported some level of unionization within Facilities. With five campuses between 80-100% unionization, it’s the region with the highest rates of unionization in North America.
Within the United States, the midwest and northeast have the second highest rates, with approximately 85% of survey participants in both regions reporting some degree of unionization (regional categories based on Census Bureau information). However, institutions in the northeast have a much greater rate of Facilities departments with very high levels of unionization at 38%. Southern institutions have the greatest percentage of no unionization within Facilities, as well as the smallest rates of high and very high unionization.
Function is a significant determiner of Facilities unionization rates
The variance of unionization rates is most stark between distinct functions within Facilities. The survey asked Facilities leaders to rate each function within their purview as “not unionized,” “partially unionized,” “fully unionized,” or “unknown.”
Tradespeople, custodians, and landscaping staff are the most likely to be 100% unionized; these three groups represent 66% of the fully unionized functions from the sample. Engineering staff are the least likely to be unionized, followed closely by administrative staff.
Facilities leaders reported high rates of “unknown” for both security and dining services. This is likely because these functions are often contracted to outside vendors or don’t report through Facilities.