The most unionized states
Since rising to prominence in the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution, labor unions have existed intending to protect and advance the rights of workers. U.S. union membership reached its peak in the mid-to-late 20th century when roughly a third of the nation’s workforce belonged to a union as a result of advanced collective bargaining efforts.
Membership has fallen drastically since President Ronald Reagan’s administration in the 1980s waged a fierce assault on labor. Massive job losses in the recession of 2008–2009—more than a million construction workers lost their jobs—lowered union ranks further.
Today the nation’s union membership rate is 10.5%, down slightly from 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of people belonging to unions is 14.7 million.
Membership among public-sector workers is about a third, over five times higher than private-sector workers. The highest unionization rates are among workers in protective service jobs like firefighters and educators. Hawaii and New York had the highest union memberships, and North Carolina and South Carolina the lowest. Non-union workers earned less per week—a median of $860 vs. $1,051—than union workers.
Some critics argue that unions stifle competition and leave employers beholden to unreasonable stipulations. More than half of states (27) have right-to-work laws that weaken unions by giving workers a choice of whether to join up and pay dues in a unionized workplace.
In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling along the same lines. The court decided government workers did not have to pay dues to the union representing them in collective bargaining. Compelling them to pay violated the right to free speech by forcing workers to fund political activities they might not agree with, the court said.
Supporters say unions are critical in providing workers decent wages, benefits, and the job security they deserve. Missouri voters in 2018 defeated a right-to-work proposal law, the first time such a measure lost at the polls.
Stacker looked at U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data as of January 2019 and ranked each state according to its percentage of wage and salary earners who were members of labor unions.
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#51. South Carolina
- Employed population: 2 million
- Members of unions: 55,000 (2.7% of employed population)
- Workers represented by unions: 72,000 (3.6% of employed population)
South Carolina is the least unionized of the 50 states, with a right-to-work law that dates to 1954. Last year, workers at a Boeing plant voted to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, but the company has challenged the move before the National Labor Relations Board. Former Gov. Nikki Haley once said: “We’ll make the unions understand full well that they are not needed, not wanted, and not welcome in the state of South Carolina.”
#50. North Carolina
- Employed population: 4.3 million
- Members of unions: 118,000 (2.7% of employed population)
- Workers represented by unions: 174,000 (4.0% of employed population)
One of the least unionized states, North Carolina has banned collective bargaining by public sector employees for 60 years. However, this year bills were introduced in the state legislature by lawmakers hoping to overturn the ban.
- Employed population: 1.3 million
- Members of unions: 56,000 (4.1% of employed population)
- Workers represented by unions: 76,000 (5.7% of employed population)
Although Utah is scantily unionized, many plumbers, carpenters and construction workers are organized. Labor supporters say the Republican Party’s strong presence in the state, outnumbering Democrats five to one, puts a damper on union membership and organizing.
- Employed population: 12 million
- Members of unions: 512,000 (4.3% of employed population)
- Workers represented by unions: 653,000 (5.4% of employed population)
Union members in Texas are largely refinery workers, steelworkers, electricians, and firefighters in the state’s urban areas. Earlier this year, contract negotiations at a Dow Inc plant near Houston triggered a contentious lockout of union workers.
- Employed population: 3.9 million
- Members of unions: 168,000 (4.3% of employed population)
- Workers represented by unions: 213,000 (5.5% of employed population)
The rate of unionization in Virginia is among the nation’s lowest, tied with Texas at 4.3%. That’s less than half of what the state’s union membership was at its peak in 1992. Virginia has a right-to-work law, but voters in 2016 rejected a ballot initiative that would have enshrined it in the state constitution.
- Employed population: 4.5 million
- Members of unions: 201,000 (4.5% of employed population)
- Workers represented by unions: 249,000 (5.6% of employed population)
Trade unions grew in Georgia after the Civil War when both black and white residents left farming and moved to jobs in cities. But the state remains largely agricultural, a sector in which union presence is not strong, and its three biggest employers are non-union military—Fort Benning, Fort Stewart, and Robins Air Force Base.
- Employed population: 733,000
- Members of unions: 34,000 (4.7% of employed population)
- Workers represented by unions: 41,000 (5.6% of employed population)
Municipal employees, firefighters, and machinists fill the ranks of unions in Idaho, where union members account for 4.7% of the state’s workers. That rate is the same as in 2013—its low in modern history.
- Employed population: 1.2 million
- Members of unions: 56,000 (4.8% of employed population)
- Workers represented by unions: 62,000 (5.3% of employed population)
About one worker in 20 belongs to a union in Arkansas, where membership has largely been on the rise in recent years. Organizers say one reason is a renewed emphasis on trade education in schools that train students for work in fields that are unionized like construction and electrical work.
- Employed population: 1.8 million
- Members of unions: 89,000 (5% of employed population)
- Workers represented by unions: 104,000 (5.8% of employed population)
In 2018, union members accounted for one in 20 workers in Louisiana, where the major industries are oil, natural gas, and commercial fishing. The rate of union membership compares to a peak of 9.4% in 1993.
- Employed population: 1.1 million
- Members of unions: 58,000 (5.1% of employed population)
- Workers represented by unions: 80,000 (7.1% of employed population)
Mississippi was the site of a highly publicized major unionization effort in 2017, when the United Auto Workers campaigned to unionize a Nissan Motors automobile assembly plant in the city of Canton. The effort failed in a 62%-to-38% vote among over 3,500 workers.2018 All rights reserved.