The States with the Strongest and Weakest Unions

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Overall union membership in the U.S. increased last year — the first time it did not decline since 2007. The story gets slightly complicated when comparing union membership in the private sector vs. the public sector. In fact, though union jobs increased in the private sector by more than 110,000 in 2011, union jobs in government dropped by nearly 75,000.

Read: The Ten States With The Strongest Unions
Read: The Ten States With The Weakest Unions

24/7 Wall St. looked at union membership by state to identify the states with the highest and lowest membership. New York has — for the second year in a row — the highest rate of union membership among workers at 24.1%. North Carolina, also for the second year in a row, has the lowest membership, with just 2.9% of all workers also union members.

The trend of union membership in the past year is reflected by the national trend in employment. As the general economy has started to recover, the private sector added more than 1.7 million jobs last year. Of that, 112,550 were new union jobs, roughly the same gain as the total increase in private positions. Public sector jobs, on the other hand, have lagged throughout the recovery, as national, state and local governments have continued to enact strict austerity measures. Between 2010 and 2011, the number of government jobs declined by 600,911. Similarly, the number of public sector union members with jobs fell by 72,942.

This trend — an increase in private union membership and a decrease in public union membership — holds true for many of the states with the largest union membership. In Illinois, which has the third-most union members in the country, private membership increased by 55,487, while public membership fell 27,403.

Just as is the case nationally, the source of employment gains in the states with the biggest increases was the private sector. In Texas, for example, total employment increased by 188,142 — the second-biggest increase in the country. However, the net number does not tell the whole story. The state actually lost 41,942 government jobs as the increase was entirely in the private sector, which added 230,065 jobs.

In many cases, states that had been losing union workers in the past decade faster than the rest of the country began to see a recovery last year. Between 2001 and 2011, the state of Michigan lost more than 600,000 union jobs, the equivalent of roughly 20% of its total union workforce. Between 2010 and 2011, the state gained back 43,663 union jobs.

One potentially damaging trend for unions on a national level is the increasing number of states that have passed “right-to-work” legislation. These laws make it illegal for employers to require workers to join a union or pay union dues. To date, 23 separate states have right-to-work laws, with several others currently considering it. All of the states with the lowest union membership are all right-to-work states, while none of the 10 states with the highest membership do.

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In order to identify the states with the strongest and weakest unions, 24/7 Wall St. used data calculated by unionstats.com, an online union membership and coverage database. The site, which analyses the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey, provides labor force numbers and union membership in both the private and public sector. 24/7 also reviewed unemployment rates for each state, compiled by the BLS.

This is 24/7 Wall St.’s states with the strongest and weakest unions.