Union Membership Percentage Drops, but Actual Count Holds Steady

By Allen Smith Jan 26, 2015
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For years, proponents of labor unions have expressed concern over the drop in the percentage of workers who are union members.

The drop is real. In 1983, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent of the workforce. On Jan. 23, 2015, the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that for 2014, the union membership rate fell 0.2 percent from 2013, to 11.1 percent.

But the picture is less stark for union advocates when considering the number of union members, which may have plateaued. From 2013 to 2014, the number of union members held steady at 14.6 million.

Cracks in Labor Strongholds

Still, there are some glaring holes in labor’s armor, particularly where it traditionally has been strongest.

More than half of the nation’s union members live in just seven states:

  • California—2.5 million (for a total of 16.3 percent of workers).
  • New York—2 million (for a total of 24.6 percent of workers, the highest union membership rate of any state).
  • Illinois—800,000 (for a total of 15.1 percent of workers).
  • Pennsylvania—700,000 (for a total of 12.7 percent of workers).
  • Michigan—600,000 (for a total of 14.5 percent of workers).
  • New Jersey—600,000 (for a total of 16.5 percent of workers).
  • Ohio—600,000 (for a total of 12.4 percent of workers).

Of these, only New Jersey saw an increase in union members in 2014. Notably, these seven states represent one-third of wages nationally.

Small Increases

Most of the states that experienced rises in union membership in 2014 saw only small increases:

  • Colorado—from 171,000 to 221,000 (a 1.9 percent increase, for a total of 9.5 percent of workers).
  • Oregon—from 208,000 to 243,000 (a 1.7 percent increase, for a total of 15.6 percent of workers).
  • Indiana—from 249,000 to 299,000 (a 1.6 percent increase, for a total of 10.7 percent of workers).
  • Connecticut—from 207,000 to 231,000 (a 1.3 percent increase, for a total of 14.8 percent of workers).
  • Arkansas—from 38,000 to 52,000 (a 1.2 percent increase, for a total of 4.7 percent of workers).
  • Wyoming—from 15,000 to 17,000 (a 1 percent increase, for a total of 6.7 percent of workers).
  • Louisiana—from 75,000 to 96,000 (a 0.9 percent increase, for a total of 5.2 percent of workers).
  • Idaho—from 29,000 to 34,000 (a 0.6 percent increase, for a total of 5.3 percent of workers).
  • Iowa—from 143,000 to 156,000 (a 0.6 percent increase, for a total of 10.7 percent of workers).
  • New Jersey—from 611,000 to 635,000 (a 0.5 percent increase, for a total of 16.5 percent of workers).
  • Arizona—from 122,000 to 138,000 (a 0.3 percent increase, for a total of 5.3 percent of workers).
  • Florida—from 414,000 to 455,000 (a 0.3 percent increase, for a total of 5.7 percent of workers).
  • Maryland—from 308,000 to 310,000 (a 0.3 percent increase, for a total of 11.9 percent of workers).
  • New Hampshire—from 60,000 to 62,000 (a 0.3 percent increase, for a total of 9.9 percent of workers).
  • Vermont—from 31,000 to 32,000 (a 0.2 percent increase, for a total of 11.1 percent of workers).

Larger Decreases Elsewhere

The states that experienced a loss of union members saw larger percentage decreases than the year-over-year gains in other states:

  • Washington—from 546,000 to 491,000 (a 2.1 percent drop, for a total of 16.8 percent of workers).
  • West Virginia—from 87,000 to 73,000 (a 2.1 percent drop, for a total of 10.6 percent of workers).
  • Michigan—from 633,000 to 585,000 (a 1.8 percent drop, for a total of 14.5 percent of workers).
  • Rhode Island—from 77,000 to 68,000 (a 1.8 percent drop, for a total of 15.1 percent of workers).
  • Oklahoma—from 114,000 to 89,000 (a 1.5 percent drop, for a total of 6 percent of workers).
  • South Carolina—from 69,000 to 41,000 (a 1.5 percent drop, for a total of 2.2 percent of workers).
  • North Dakota—from 22,000 to 18,000 (a 1.4 percent drop, for a total of 5 percent of workers).
  • North Carolina—from 117,000 to 76,000 (a 1.1 percent drop, for a total of 1.9 percent of workers).
  • Tennessee—from 155,000 to 127,000 (a 1.1 percent drop, for a total of 5 percent of workers).
  • Georgia—from 209,000 to 170,000 (a 1 percent drop, for a total of 4.3 percent of workers).

High and Low Rates of Unionized Jobs

Public-sector workers had a union membership rate of 35.7 percent in 2014. The union membership rate in the public sector was highest for teachers, police officers and firefighters.

In the private sector, industries with the highest unionization rates were utilities (22.3 percent), transportation and warehousing (19.6 percent), telecommunications (14.8 percent), and construction (13.9 percent).

Low unionization rates were found in agriculture (1.1 percent), finance (1.3 percent), professional and technical services (1.4 percent), and food services and bars (1.4 percent).

Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.

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