The following was written by Vince Calio, Thomas C. Frohlich and Alexander E.M. Hess and published on MSN Money
State of the unions
The percentage of American workers in unions remained effectively unchanged last year. This marks a departure from the nation’s long-term trend: In the past 30 years, union membership has dropped from 20.1 percent of the workforce in 1983 to 11.2 percent last year.
Despite this long running decline, some states remain union strongholds, while others have almost no union presence. In several states, more than 22 percent of workers were union members last year. Conversely, in five states, less than 4 percent of all employees were union members.
A number of factors help determine whether unions have a significant or negligible presence in a state, including industry composition, labor laws and political atmosphere. Based on data collected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and calculations by Unionstats.com, 24/7 Wall St. identified the states with the highest and lowest shares of workers who are union members.
In recent decades, the private sector has accounted for the majority of the decline in the union workforce, while the share of public sector workers in unions has remained relatively constant, Unionstats founder Barry Hirsch wrote in an email. “Public sector members now account for half of all members despite being only [one-sixth] of the workforce,” he added.
Often, high levels of union membership in a state were due to the presence of industries where unions traditionally held considerable influence, most notably construction and manufacturing. As of 2013, 14 percent of all construction sector workers, and 10 percent of all manufacturing workers, were union members.
In addition to sector composition, Hirsch also noted that history played a role in determining unionization rates. “States that historically had high unionization in manufacturing are now more likely to have high unionized hospitals and grocery stores, and vice-versa,” he explained. In turn, when young workers have not been exposed to unions through friends and family members, “these workers are far less likely to support union organizing.”
5th strongest: Rhode Island
Pct. Of workers in unions: 16.9 percent
Union workers: 77,367 (18th lowest)
10-yr. change in union membership: -7.9 percent (25th highest)
Total employment, 2013: 458,494 (8th lowest)
Like several other states with strong union presence, nearly two-thirds of Rhode Island’s public sector belonged to a union last year, second only to New York.
Labor initiatives appear to be a recent priority for policy makers. The state raised its minimum wage to $8 an hour at the beginning of last year, affecting more than 10,000 workers at the time. Wages may increase even further if the labor union-backed legislation introduced in January is passed. The bill aims to increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour by 2016.
While union membership may benefit many Rhode Island workers, high wages could potentially also limit new employment opportunities. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate of 9.5 percent last year was higher than that of any other state except for Nevada.
4th strongest: Washington
Pct. Of workers in unions: 18.9 percent
Union workers: 544,986 (8th highest)
10-yr. change in union membership: 8.7 percent (8th highest)
Total employment, 2013: 2,880,935 (14th highest)
Washington’s total employment rose by nearly 104,000 workers, or 3.6 percent, between 2012 and 2013, one of the highest increases in the country. Washington is one of the most unionized states in the private sector, with 11.7 percent of all employees union members. Nearly one-quarter of the state’s private construction workers were union members in 2013, among the highest in the country. Similarly, 24.2 percent of all manufacturing workers held union membership, the most in the nation.
There were 52,000 fewer public sector employees in 2013 than in 2012, as the state continued to follow through on the budget cuts it initiated during the recession. Despite this, union membership in the public sector held steady, at more than 261,000 workers, or 57 percent of all public employees.
3rd strongest: Hawaii
Pct. Of workers in unions: 22.1 percent
Union workers: 121,357 (23rd lowest)
10-yr. change in union membership: -0.3 percent (18th highest)
Total employment, 2013: 549,219 (9th lowest)
As is the case in many states with strong union membership, a large proportion of Hawaii’s manufacturing workers – 18.3 percent – were union members as of last year, more than in all but two other states. More than 32 percent of private construction workers were also union members, among the highest percentages nationwide in 2013.
By many measures, Hawaii is a good place to work, with high median incomes and low unemployment helping to offset the state’s exceptionally high cost of living last year. A typical household made more than $66,000 in 2012, more than in all but a handful of states. And the unemployment rate was just 4.8 percent last year, also among the best rates.
2nd strongest: Alaska
Pct. Of workers in unions: 23.1 percent
Union workers: 70,692 (16th lowest)
10-yr. change in union membership: 19.6 percent (3rd highest)
Total employment, 2013: 306,322 (3rd lowest)
More than 23 percent of Alaska’s relatively small workforce, or 70,692 workers, were union members in 2013. Additionally, more than one in 10 private sector workers were union members, among the higher rates in the nation.
Unlike in many highly unionized states, union membership increased in Alaska – by nearly 20 percent – between 2003 and 2013. This was the third largest increase in union members among all states. Membership across the nation, by contrast, fell by 8 percent over that time.
Alaska residents had among the nation’s highest incomes as of 2012, when a typical household earning more than $67,000. Also, just slightly more than 10 percent of people lived below the poverty line that year, among the lowest in the country.
Strongest: New York
Pct. Of workers in unions: 24.3 percent
Union workers: 1,982,771 (2nd highest)
10-yr. change in union membership: 2.4 percent (14th highest)
Total employment, 2013: 8,144,204 (3rd highest)
Nearly one-quarter of New York’s workers – close to 2 million people – were union members in 2013, the highest percentage in the country.
Union representation was relatively strong both in the private sector and in government jobs. In the private sector, 15.1 percent of workers were union members, the highest percentage in the country. Nearly 70 percent of public sector workers belonged to unions, the highest percentage in the country.
However, even in New York, unions have been forced to make concessions so that their members could keep their jobs. In 2011, the state struck a deal with New York’s largest public employees union, the Civil Service Employees Association, to freeze wages in order to avoid mass layoffs.
5th weakest: Utah
Pct. Of workers in unions: 3.9 percent
Union workers: 49,253 (10th lowest)
10-yr. change in union membership: -7.1 percent (24th highest)
Total employment, 2013: 1,252,176 (19th lowest)
Just 3.9 percent of Utah employees were part of a union in 2013, while just 5.4 percent were considered covered by a union contract, both among the lowest rates in the nation. While this was lower than in 2003, when 5.2 percent of workers were in unions, the actual number of union workers fell by just 3,000 in that time.
Notably, much of the loss in union jobs has come from the public sector, where the percentage of workers in a union dropped from 19.9 percent to 11.7 percent, one of the lowest rates in the nation. This alone accounted for a loss of nearly 10,000 union members.
While unions play a minor role in Utah’s labor force, the state’s job market remains robust. Employment in the state jumped 23.4 percent between 2003 and 2013, the most of any state. The state’s annual average unemployment rate was just 4.4 percent in 2013, fourth lowest in the nation.
4th weakest: South Carolina
Pct. Of workers in unions: 3.7 percent
Union workers: 68,484 (15th lowest)
10-yr. change in union membership: -4.0 percent (23rd highest)
Total employment, 2013: 1,854,629 (24th highest)
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, South Carolina is one of just a few states where police officers, firefighters, teachers and all other public employees are prohibited from collective bargaining. It is therefore no surprise that so few of South Carolina workers are union members.
Governor Nikki Haley openly discourages unions, stating that eliminating unions is part of her job description. In a recent news report, Haley said, “we discourage any companies that have unions from wanting to come to South Carolina because we don’t want to taint the water.” Just 3.7 percent of workers belonged to unions last year, including just under 10 percent of public sector workers, lower than in all but a few other states.
3rd weakest: Mississippi
Pct. Of workers in unions: 3.6 percent
Union workers: 37,856 (7th lowest)
10-yr. change in union membership: -31.6 percent (2nd lowest)
Total employment, 2013: 1,040,242 (16th lowest)
Just 4.9 percent of public sector workers in Mississippi belonged to a union in 2013, the lowest percentage in the country, and far lower than the average 35.3 percent of public workers in the U.S. as a whole. Just 5.7 percent of the state’s private construction workers were union members last year, compared to 14.1 percent in the U.S. as a whole.
The state also had the lowest median household income in the country at $37,095 in 2012, as well as the second-highest percentage of residents using food stamps, 19.4 percent. State lawmakers recently passed a bill that restricts mass picketing by union members at a business or residence. A similar bill also outlaws unions from coercing companies to take a neutral stance during union membership drives.
2nd weakest: Arkansas
Pct. Of workers in unions: 3.5 percent
Union workers: 37,735 (6th lowest)
10-yr. change in union membership: -24.2 percent (7th lowest)
Total employment, 2013: 1,072,119 (17th lowest)
Arkansas had the second-lowest percentage of unionized private sector workers in 2013 at just 1.4 percent, far lower than the 6.7 percent for the United States as a whole. The state also had among the lowest percentages of unionized workers in the public sector, at 10.9 percent. The percentage was among the lowest in the country and far below the 35.3 percent average in the United States.
In addition to low union membership figures, the state has struggled to grow jobs over the past several years. Roughly 83,000 workers lost or left their employment between 2012 and 2013, one of the largest declines in the country. The state’s public sector had a net loss of nearly 9,000 employees in that time, including a decline of 18,000 in private construction, among the steepest losses in the nation.
Weakest: North Carolina
Pct. Of workers in unions: 3.0 percent
Union workers: 116,178 (22nd lowest)
10-yr. change in union membership: 4.3 percent (12th highest)
Total employment, 2013: 3,881,111 (10th highest)
Just 3 percent of North Carolina’s workforce was part of a union last year, less than in any other state. Unsurprisingly, North Carolina is a right to work state, which means employees are not required to join or pay dues to unions. North Carolina is one of just three states with blanket statutes prohibiting collective bargaining for all public-sector employees.
Union participation in the two sectors with usually the most collective bargaining – construction and manufacturing – is nearly non-existent in North Carolina. There were no union members among private construction workers at all last year, and just 2.3 percent of manufacturing workers belonged to a union, last and third-to-last, respectively.