The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions

States with the Strongest Unions

10. Nevada
> Pct. of workers in unions: 14.8%
> Union workers: 162,349 (23rd highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 18.9% (2nd largest increase)
> Total employment: 1,100,217 (16th lowest)

By 2012, there were more than 162,000 Nevada workers in unions. This was up 18.9% from 2002, higher growth than any other state except for Texas. A lot of new union members work in the hospitality industry on the Las Vegas strip, and have jobs that cannot be shipped to other states or overseas. Unions representing these workers have had success getting members to pay dues even though Nevada’s right-to-work laws prohibit mandatory payments. Although still smaller than the majority of states, private manufacturing union membership grew 184% between 2002 and 2012, more than any other state. Union membership in private sector manufacturing fell 45% across the U.S. during that time.

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9. Oregon
> Pct. of workers in unions: 15.8%
> Union workers: 240,658 (16th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 6.4% (10th largest increase)
> Total employment: 1,527,065 (22nd lowest)

Oregon is one of a minority of states to see union membership increase over the past 10 years. While union membership across the country fell by more than 10% between 2002 and 2012, it rose by 6.4% in the state. Most of this growth came in the state’s public sector, which added more than 20,000 members between 2002 and 2012, an 18.8% increase. While public unions have a strong hold in the state, they face a challenge from state Governor Kitzhaber, who wants to place a cap on the increase of public employee retirement benefits.

8. New Jersey
> Pct. of workers in unions: 16.1%
> Union workers: 611,190 (6th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -14.1% (18th largest decrease)
> Total employment: 3,797,439 (10th highest)

From 2002 through 2012, union membership fell from nearly 20% of New Jersey employees to 16.1%. One reason was a decline in union participation within the construction sector — from 31.6% in 2002 to 24.5% in 2012. Despite this decline, construction unions remain a political force in New Jersey. In recent months, Laborers’ International Union of North America has made news with its endorsement of Governor Chris Christie’s reelection campaign. Additionally, in January, the New Jersey Senate passed a bill allowing localities to hire all-union workforces to repair damaged infrastructure following Superstorm Sandy. Opponents believe such agreements will make projects more expensive, while supporters believe the laws will provide jobs for residents.

7. Michigan
> Pct. of workers in unions: 16.6%
> Union workers: 628,798 (5th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -29.9% (6th largest decrease)
> Total employment: 3,784,762 (11th highest)

Although Michigan is more unionized than most states, total union membership declined nearly 30% between 2002 and 2012. However, the decline in union membership was due more to the disappearance of jobs than to anti-unionization. Total employment declined by nearly 11% during the same time — more than any other state — mainly as a result of a weakened auto sector and a 22% decline of total public employment between 2002 and 2012. Michigan is likely to become less union friendly soon. Governor Rick Snyder and his Republican allies passed a right-to-work law, which is scheduled to take effect in late March. Several unions have filed a lawsuit against the new law, and many unions have worked to ratify new contracts with employers before the new law takes effect.

6. California
> Pct. of workers in unions: 17.2%
> Union workers: 2,485,040 (the highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -3.6% (29th largest decrease)
> Total employment: 14,488,778 (the highest)

Union membership in California declined slightly — from 17.8% to 17.2% — between 2002 and 2012. However, while private sector union participation declined from 10.2% to 8.9% in that time, public sector participation rose from 55.8% to 58.7%. This represented a net increase of over 57,000 new public sector union members over a period of time in which the state added about 36,500 net jobs. Although California has struggled to limit spending in recent years, public workers remain well compensated. According to the Center For Continuing Study of the California Economy, the average salary for a state employee was $70,777 in 2011 — versus $54,976 for the U.S. as a whole.

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