The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions

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5. Rhode Island
> Pct. of workers in unions: 16.9%
> Union workers: 77,367 (18th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -7.9% (25th highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 458,494 (8th lowest)

Like several other states with strong union presence, nearly two-thirds of Rhode Island’s public sector belonged to a union last year, second only to New York. Labor initiatives appear to be a recent priority for policy makers. The state raised its minimum wage to $8 an hour at the beginning of last year, affecting more than 10,000 workers at the time. Wages may increase even further if the labor union-backed legislation introduced in January is passed. The bill aims to increase the minimum wage to $10 per hour by 2016. While union membership may benefit many Rhode Island workers, high wages could potentially also limit new employment opportunities. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate of 9.5% last year was higher than that of any other state except for Nevada.

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4. Washington
> Pct. of workers in unions: 18.9%
> Union workers: 544,986 (8th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 8.7% (8th highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 2,880,935 (14th highest)

Washington’s total employment rose by nearly 104,000 workers, or 3.6%, between 2012 and 2013, one of the highest increases in the country. Washington is one of the most unionized states in the private sector, with 11.7% of all employees union members. Nearly one-quarter of the state’s private construction workers were union members in 2013, among the highest in the country. Similarly, 24.2% of all manufacturing workers held union membership, the most in the nation. There were 52,000 fewer public sector employees in 2013 than in 2012, as the state continued to follow through on the budget cuts it initiated during the recession. Despite this, union membership in the public sector held steady, at more than 261,000 workers, or 57% of all public employees.

3. Hawaii
> Pct. of workers in unions: 22.1%
> Union workers: 121,357 (23rd lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -0.3% (18th highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 549,219 (9th lowest)

As is the case in many states with strong union membership, a large proportion of Hawaii’s manufacturing workers — 18.3% — were union members as of last year, more than in all but two other states. More than 32% of private construction workers were also union members, among the highest percentages nationwide in 2013. By many measures, Hawaii is a good place to work, with high median incomes and low unemployment helping to offset the state’s exceptionally high cost of living last year. A typical household made more than $66,000 in 2012, more than in all but a handful of states. And the unemployment rate was just 4.8% last year, also among the best rates.

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2. Alaska
> Pct. of workers in unions: 23.1%
> Union workers: 70,692 (16th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 19.6% (3rd highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 306,322 (3rd lowest)

More than 23% of Alaska’s relatively small workforce, or 70,692 workers, were union members in 2013, more than in any state except for New York. Additionally, more than one in 10 private sector workers were union members, among the higher rates in the nation. Unlike many highly unionized states, union membership increased in Alaska — by nearly 20% — between 2003 and 2013. This was the third largest increase in union members among all states. Membership across the nation, by contrast, fell by 8% over that time. Alaska residents had among the nation’s highest incomes as of 2012, when a typical household earning more than $67,000. Also, just slightly more than 10% of people lived below the poverty line that year, among the lowest in the country.

1. New York
> Pct. of workers in unions: 24.3%
> Union workers: 1,982,771 (2nd highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 2.4% (14th highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 8,144,204 (3rd highest)

Nearly one-quarter of New York’s workers — close to 2 million people — were union members in 2013, the highest percentage in the country. Union representation was relatively strong both in the private sector and in government jobs. In the private sector, 15.1% of workers were union members, the highest percentage in the country. Nearly 70% of public sector workers belonged to unions, the highest percentage in the country. However, even in New York, unions have been forced to make concessions so that their members could keep their jobs. In 2011, the state struck a deal with New York’s largest public employees union, the Civil Service Employees Association, to freeze wages in order to avoid mass layoffs.