10 States with the Highest Union Membership
Union membership in the U.S. has been on the decline for decades. In 1983, 20% of workers held a union card, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Today, that number is closer to 11%.
Depending on whom you ask, a shift away from manufacturing jobs (traditional bastions of union membership), employer opposition to unions, and government policies that favor business over workers are all at least partly to blame for the long, slow death of the American labor movement. While there have been some recent signs of life, particularly recent efforts to unionize fast food and retail workers, overall, unions aren’t in the greatest of shape.
But unions are far stronger in some areas of the country than others. The Midwest and Northeast have long been union strongholds, while Southern states have a history of being hostile to organized labor.
In 2014, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, went so far as to say that she would discourage unionized companies from setting up shop in the state, claiming they would “taint the water.” That opposition continues in spite of the state’s 6.7% unemployment rate, which is higher than the U.S. national average of 5.5%. Just 2.2% of South Carolina workers are unionized, the second-lowest rate in the country, according to the latest data from the BLS.
Low rates of union membership in the South aren’t surprising. But what is interesting is that states that were once union strongholds, like Ohio and Michigan, don’t top the list of states with a high rate of unionized workers. As recently as 2003, 21.9% of workers in Michigan were in a union. By 2014, that number was down 7.4%, to 14.5%. In Ohio, union membership went from 16.7% in 2003 to 12.4% in 2014. Both states have seen big losses in manufacturing jobs in the past decade.
Today, workers in a handful of states in the West and Northeast are more likely to be in a union than those living in the other parts of the country. In some of those states, union membership is actually increasing.
Here are the 10 states with the highest percentage of workers in a union as of 2014, per the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Percent of workforce that’s unionized: 14.8%
Number of workers in a union: 231,000
Union membership in Connecticut was up 1.3% between 2013 and 2014, from 13.5% to 14.8%.
9. Rhode Island
Percent of workforce that’s unionized: 15.1%
Number of workers in a union: 68,000
Rhode Island has the highest level of unionized workers among New England states.
Percent of workforce that’s unionized: 15.1%
Number of workers in a union: 831,000
Half of public employees in Illinois are members of a union, or 378,600 out of 724,000, according to Illinois Policy.
Percent of workforce that’s unionized: 15.6%
Number of workers in a union: 243,000
Employment gains in the construction industry and the public sector are helping to drive increases in union membership in Oregon, according to the Oregonian. The 1.7% jump was the biggest in the country.
6. New Jersey
Percent of workforce that’s unionized: 16.5%
Number of workers in a union: 635,000
About 24,000 more people in New Jersey counted themselves as a member of a union in 2014 compared to 2013, according to the BLS. Overall union membership in the Garden State went from 16% of the workforce to 16.5%.
Percent of workforce that’s unionized: 16.3%
Number of workers in a union: 2.47 million
Union membership in California is actually up slightly from its low point in 2000, when 15.5% of workers in the state were unionized.
Percent of workforce that’s unionized: 16.8%
Number of workers in a union: 491,000
Union membership in Washington is relatively high compared to the rest of the country, but it’s still down significantly over time. In 1992, 23.8% of workers were in a union, per the BLS.
Percent of workforce that’s unionized: 21.8%
Number of workers in a union: 124,000
People in Hawaii are more likely to work in unionized government jobs than in other states. Hospitality workers in this tourist-friendly state are also likely to be union members, according to NPR.
Percent of workforce that’s unionized: 22.8%
Number of workers in a union: 70,000
As in Hawaii, a greater share of the Alaskan workforce is employed by the government than in other states, which helps keep union membership relatively high. Many other people work in unionized industries like road building.
1. New York
Percent of workforce that’s unionized: 24.6%
Number of workers in a union: 1.98 million
Job growth in heavily unionized industries like hospitality and construction is helping to keep union membership in the Empire State high, according to Bloomberg.
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