The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions

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5. Rhode Island
> Pct. of workers in unions: 17.8%
> Union workers: 81,120 (17th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 7.3% (9th largest increase)
> Total employment: 455,284 (8th lowest)

Rhode Island is heavily unionized in both the public and private sectors. Just over 10% of private sector employees are union members, the seventh highest of all states. This is up a full percentage point from 2002, more than any other state. In addition, more than 60% of the state’s public sector employees are union members, more than any other state except for New York. Yet this is down from 65.8% back in 2002. Rhode Island’s 10.2% unemployment rate as of December 2012 was higher than any other state.

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4. Washington
> Pct. of workers in unions: 18.5%
> Union workers: 512,855 (9th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 8.7% (8th largest increase)
> Total employment: 2,776,978 (14th highest)

Between 2002 and 2012, Washington added roughly 79,400 public sector jobs. Over that same time, the public sector added over 76,000 union members, more than any state but Texas. As a result of this growth, public sector union participation jumped from 42.9% in 2002 to 51.1% by 2012 — the second largest increase in the U.S. However, total union membership remained nearly unchanged from 2002 to 2012. This was due to a decline in private sector union participation from 13.6% to 11.1%. However, private union participation in Washington remains higher than all but three other states and well above the 6.6% figure for the nation.

3. Hawaii
> Pct. of workers in unions: 21.7%
> Union workers: 116,589 (23rd lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -1.6% (30th largest decrease)
> Total employment: 537,784 (9th lowest)

Hawaii is one of just three states where more than 20% of the workforce belongs to a union. A whopping 14.6% of the state’s private sector workers belong to a union, a higher percentage than any other state. Unlike most highly unionized states, unemployment in Hawaii is significantly lower than the national rate. As of December 2012, the unemployment rate was a mere 5.2%, compared to the national rate of 7.8%.

2. Alaska
> Pct. of workers in unions: 22.4%
> Union workers: 66,754 (16th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 5.0% (13th largest increase)
> Total employment: 298,283 (3rd lowest)

Nearly one of every four Alaska workers is covered by a union. A major reason for this is the industries that have higher representation than most of the country. Relative to its population, Alaska has the second largest construction workforce in the country, and the third largest natural resources workforce, which includes oil, gas and timber harvesting occupations. While these private sector industries are important factors, government jobs also play a role in making Alaska the second most union-heavy state in the country. More than one in four employees in the state work for the government, compared to just 15% nationwide, and 54.5% of these are covered by unions, among the highest coverage rates in the country. Last week in Juneau, hundreds of union members came out to protest Mayor Dan Sullivan’s plans to weaken city unions. According to The Anchorage Daily News, the law would “limit raises, eliminate the right to strike and give the Assembly the final word on stalled labor disputes.”

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1. New York
> Pct. of workers in unions: 23.2%
> Union workers: 1,836,445 (2nd highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -5.6% (26th largest decrease)
> Total employment: 7,932,316 (3rd highest)

More than 23% of all employees belonged to a labor union in 2012. In the public sector, membership was at 71%. Both figures are significantly higher than for any other state in the U.S. In the private sector, New York’s 13.3% membership rate is second only to Hawaii. While it easily remains at the top of the list, membership declined by 5.6% from 2002 to 2012. The hit has been most evident for private sector workers. Private union membership declined by nearly 10% in those years, compared to a decline of just 1.3% in the public sector.