Special Report

The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions

States with the Strongest Unions

10. Nevada
> Pct. of workers in unions: 14.6%
> Union workers: 168,323 (24th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 23.7% (2nd highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 1,152,609 (18th lowest)

The number of union workers in Nevada rose by more than 32,000 between 2003 and 2013. During that time, employment in Nevada grew by 22.3%. Only Utah had higher employment growth than Nevada during those years. The share of private construction workers union members rose from 18.7% to 23.6% between 2003 and 2013, a higher percentage points increase than all but three other states. As of last year, 11% of Nevada’s private sector employees were union members, among the highest percentages in the country. State residents still face a difficult job market. Nevada’s unemployment rate of 9.8% was an improvement from the 11.5% unemployment rate in 2012, but it remained the highest in the nation.

9. Illinois
> Pct. of workers in unions: 15.7%
> Union workers: 850,557 (3rd highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -12.0% (18th lowest)
> Total employment, 2013: 5,402,987 (6th highest)

Although the number of union employees in Illinois fell by 12% between 2003 and 2013, Illinois remains one of the nation’s most unionized states. More than 850,000 workers in the state were union members, more than in any other state except for California and New York. More than 36% of the state’s manufacturing sector workers were union members as of last year, a higher percentage than in any other state. Historically, Illinois is one of the pioneering states for labor unions. The state is the site of the historic Haymarket Square riot in 1886 and the Pullman strike in 1894 — pivotal moments in the industrial revolution and labor movement.

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8. New Jersey
> Pct. of workers in unions: 16.0%
> Union workers: 610,187 (6th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -17.2% (12th lowest)
> Total employment, 2013: 3,815,813 (11th highest)

More than 60% of New Jersey’s public sector workers were union members, a higher proportion than all state except for New York and Rhode Island. The state’s teachers union, the New Jersey Education Association, has more than 192,000 members. The state’s construction sector, too, had relatively high union membership. Nearly one-quarter of New Jersey’s private construction sector workers were union members last year, more than in all but a handful of states. In all, New Jersey had 45,000 union members working in the construction sector last year.

7. Michigan
> Pct. of workers in unions: 16.2%
> Union workers: 631,453 (5th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -31.3% (4th lowest)
> Total employment, 2013: 3,890,636 (9th highest)

The number of union members in Michigan decreased by more than 31% between 2003 and 2013, among the largest drops in the country. Nevertheless, the state remains one of the largest union strongholds in the U.S., with 11% of its private sector workers union members, among the most in the country last year. Home to Ford, Chrysler and General Motors, Michigan is also home to the United Auto Workers (UAW), one of the largest labor unions in the United States. The UAW has 390,000 active and 600,000 retired members. Michigan has struggled for years with high unemployment rates. The state’s unemployment rate was 8.8% in 2013, one of the highest rates in the nation.

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6. California
> Pct. of workers in unions: 16.4%
> Union workers: 2,429,109 (the highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 0.6% (17th highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 14,840,395 (the highest)

Even as it declined nationwide, union membership in California actually increased slightly between 2003 and 2013, rising by 0.6%, or nearly 15,000 members. Union membership in the private sector was little changed, as the number of union members working in construction declined from roughly 170,000 to 119,000 during that time. However, union membership in the public sector rose during that time, increasing slightly to reach more than 1.3 million despite recent cuts in government employment. As of last year, 55% of public sector workers were union members, among the highest proportions in the nation. The state continues to struggle with job creation. California’s unemployment rate of 8.9% in 2013 was one of the highest in the country.

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