Economy

This Is the American City With the Strongest Unions

The union movement would seem to have had a resurgence in America. Starbucks workers have started to unionize in some locations. This has spread enough that the company has tried to block the trend. Amazon faces union movements in some of its warehouses. In both cases, the workers who favor unions are poorly paid. These efforts run against the recent tide of organized labor in America.

In fact, union membership in the United States has been declining steadily for decades. The number of salaried U.S. workers belonging to unions increased in only 11 years since 1984, leading to net loss of more than 3.3 million members, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In 2021, the number of union workers declined by 241,000 to 14 million.

In the private sector, union membership is declining faster than in the public sector. Last year, the share of union-represented workers at companies and other private establishments was just 6.1%, compared to 33.9% for public employees like bureaucrats, police and teachers. Both shares have declined since 2010, pushing down the total percentage of unionized employees from 11.9% to 10.3% last year.

Adding to this decades-long nationwide erosion in organized labor, six more states have enacted so-called right-to-work laws since 2000.

To find the metropolitan area with the most union members, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed union membership data for 2021 from Unionstats.com, a database constructed by Barry Hirsch (Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, Georgia State University) and David Macpherson (Department of Economics, Trinity University). Metropolitan areas we considered are ranked by the union membership rate. In the 260 metros we looked at, at least 20% of those employed are union members.

The most unionized city in America is Topeka, Kansas. Here are the details:

  • Union membership rate: 38.2% (29,346 workers)
  • Union coverage rate: 39.1% (30,045 workers, the second highest)
  • Employed population: 76,831 (236th largest)
  • Unemployment rate, 2020 (five-year average): 4.0% (39th highest)

All data came from Unionstats.com, except the unemployment rate, which came from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and is a five-year estimate for 2020. Unionstat.com used the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey Outgoing Rotation Group Earnings Files, Jan-Dec 2021. Only employed wage and salary workers, ages 16 and over, were surveyed for union data. Union members are employed workers who are union members. Covered workers are those who are employed and are represented by a collective bargaining agreement. Only 260 metropolitan areas had union data.


Click here to see all the U.S. cities with the strongest unions.

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