Special Report

The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions

States with the Weakest Unions

10. Arizona
> Pct. of workers in unions: 5.0%
> Union workers: 121,864 (24th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 7.8% (9th highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 2,455,146 (21st highest)

The total number of union workers in Arizona rose from slightly more than 113,000 in 2003 to 121,864 last year, a nearly 8% gain. However, union membership growth failed to keep pace with overall job growth in the state, as total employment rose 12% between 2003 and 2013. As was the case in many states, disparities in public sector and private sector membership were pronounced. As of last year, 16.2% of public sector workers were union members, versus just 2.9% of private sector workers. Recently, several public sector unions in Phoenix were the subject of controversy after the city was accused of tolerating “pension spiking,” a practice that inflates salaries in the years before retirement in order to later receive higher pension payments

9. Texas
> Pct. of workers in unions: 4.8%
> Union workers: 517,825 (9th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 1.9% (15th highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 10,880,079 (2nd highest)

Union membership in Texas was miniscule in both the public and private sectors last year. Just 2.6% of the state’s 9.3 million private sector employees were union members, lower than in all but a handful of states, and well below the U.S. average of 6.7% in that sector. In private construction, an industry that is often heavily unionized, just 2.8% of workers were union members. By comparison, 14.1% of private construction workers nationwide were union members. Leaders from unions, including the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions in the United States, convened in February to discuss how to increase union membership in the state.

8. South Dakota
> Pct. of workers in unions: 4.7%
> Union workers: 17,206 (2nd lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -9.7% (21st lowest)
> Total employment, 2013: 362,526 (5th lowest)

Compared to 2003, the number of employed residents had increased by 2013 — as it did in most states. Union membership, on the other hand, decreased considerably, by 10% between 2003 and 2013. Out of the more than 362,526 employed South Dakotans, just 17,206 were union members last year, lower than every state except for Wyoming. South Dakota’s unemployment rate, in any case, was remarkably low last year, at just 3.8%, second only to North Dakota.

7. Idaho
> Pct. of workers in unions: 4.7%
> Union workers: 29,021 (4th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -24.9% (6th lowest)
> Total employment, 2013: 617,100 (11th lowest)

Just 4.7% of Idaho workers were union members last year, down from 7% of workers in 2003. In that time, union membership fell by nearly 10,000 workers, accounting for a nearly 25% drop in one of the nation’s smaller states. By contrast, total employment in Idaho jumped by 12.5% between 2003 and 2013, one of the largest increases nationwide, despite the decline in employment the state experienced during the Great Recession. As of last year, 29,021 workers in the state were union members, of which 17,404 worked in the public sector.

6. Louisiana
> Pct. of workers in unions: 4.3%
> Union workers: 74,826 (17th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -31.5% (3rd lowest)
> Total employment, 2013: 1,728,929 (25th lowest)

In Louisiana, one of the poorest states in the country, and it is little surprise that union membership is quite low. Just 12.7% of public workers in the state were union members last year, far lower than the 35.5% of public workers nationwide. Nearly 20% of its residents lived below the poverty line at some point in 2012, one of the highest poverty rates in the country. State politicians have largely been perceived as being anti-union. The state enacted its right to work law in 1976, prohibiting unions from making deals with employers that would require the hiring of union members.