The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions

Print Email

States with the Weakest Unions

10. Arizona
> Pct. of workers in unions: 5.2% (tied for 9th lowest)
> Union workers: 125,557 (25th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 8.7% (7th largest increase)
> Total employment: 2,433,824 (21st highest)

Just over 5% of the state’s workers were members of labor unions in 2012, down from 5.6% in 2002 and from 6% in 2011. Arizona is one of a handful of states where private sector union membership expanded between 2002 and 2012, growing by more than 16%. However, the state’s conservative leadership has increasingly become hostile toward these groups. In 2012, Governor Jan Brewer announced her support for legislation to weaken labor unions. Among the proposals were laws prohibiting public labor unions from collective bargaining, ending automatic payroll deductions for union dues and stripping civil-service protections for state employees, making it easier to fire them. The legislation was not passed.

Also Read: States with the Best and Worst School Systems

9. Utah
> Pct. of workers in unions: 5.2% (tied for 9th lowest)
> Union workers: 60,829 (13th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 3.2% (17th largest increase)
> Total employment: 1,181,074 (19th lowest)

Utah added over 232,000 jobs between 2002 and 2012, growing employment statewide by a nation-high 24.5%. But over that period the state added less than 2,000 union members. Among the reasons was a large decline in the percentage of public workers who were part of unions — from 21.3% to 15.8%. By comparison, 35.9% of public sector employees are part of a union nationwide. But despite limited and falling union membership among state employees, a bill was introduced earlier this year that would ban collective bargaining on issues not related to wages or benefits by state and local government workers. Opponents argue the bill is not needed, because Utah allows individuals the right to work in union-heavy occupations without either joining the union or paying dues.

8. Idaho
> Pct. of workers in unions: 4.8% (tied for 7th lowest)
> Union workers: 29,216 (4th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -25.2% (9th largest decrease)
> Total employment: 613,845 (11th lowest)

Although the number of jobs in Idaho increased by more than 11% between 2002 and 2012, union membership declined by a quarter in the same time period. The decline was dispersed relatively evenly across the public and private sectors, with membership falling 21.5% and 28.1%, respectively. In January 2012, a federal judge ruled that a pair of anti-union laws passed by the conservative Idaho legislature violated federal law. As passed, these laws prohibited “job targeting programs” that used union dues to help contractors win bids and also banned “project labor agreements” that allowed contractors to sign agreements with union workers while concurrently bidding on public projects.

7. Tennessee
> Pct. of workers in unions: 4.8% (tied for 7th lowest)
> Union workers: 124,331 (24th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -43.8% (the largest decrease)
> Total employment: 2,590,205 (18th highest)

Union membership in Tennessee fell by more than 43% from 2002 to 2012, the largest decline in the nation. In that time, the percentage of workers who were part of a union fell from 9.1% to just 4.8%. Among public sector workers, the decline was even more pronounced — from 22.6% to 14.7%. The state is a right-to-work state. Advocates contend such laws attract jobs, while critics believe they make recruiting union members difficult and ultimately leads to decreased wages.

6. Georgia
> Pct. of workers in unions: 4.4% (tied for 5th lowest)
> Union workers: 170,726 (20th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -21.7% (14th largest decrease)
> Total employment: 3,912,100 (8th highest)

Between 2002 and 2012, Georgia added over 300,000 workers, one of the largest employment increases in the nation during that time. However, because the number of union workers declined by over 47,000, union participation fell from an already-low 6% to just 4.4%. Between 2002 and 2012, public union participation fell from 18.6% to just 10.5% — lower than all but four other states. Although more than 130,000 new public sector jobs were created over those 10 years, union membership fell by nearly 30% among public employees. Last year, only 3.1% of private sector employees were affiliated with a union — among the lowest percentages of all states in the U.S.