Special Report

The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions

5. Utah
> Pct. of workers in unions: 3.9%
> Union workers: 49,253 (10th lowest)

> 10-yr. change in union membership: -7.1% (24th highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 1,252,176 (19th lowest)

Just 3.9% of Utah employees were part of a union in 2013, while just 5.4% were considered covered by a union contract, both among the lowest rates in the nation. While this was lower than in 2003, when 5.2% of workers were in unions, the actual number of union workers fell by just 3,000 in that time. Notably, much of the loss in union jobs has come from the public sector, where the percentage of workers in a union dropped from 19.9% to 11.7%, one of the lowest rates in the nation. This alone accounted for a loss of nearly 10,000 union members. While unions play a minor role in Utah’s labor force, the state’s job market remains robust. Employment in the state jumped 23.4% between 2003 and 2013, the most of any state. The state’s annual average unemployment rate was just 4.4% in 2013, fourth lowest in the nation

4. South Carolina
> Pct. of workers in unions: 3.7%
> Union workers: 68,484 (15th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -4.0% (23rd highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 1,854,629 (24th highest)

According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, South Carolina is one of just a few states where police officers, firefighters, teachers and all other public employees are prohibited from collective bargaining. It is therefore no surprise that so few of South Carolina workers are union members. Governor Nikki Haley openly discourages unions, stating that eliminating unions is part of her job description. In a recent news report, Haley said, “we discourage any companies that have unions from wanting to come to South Carolina because we don’t want to taint the water.” Just 3.7% of workers belonged to unions last year, including just under 10% of public sector workers, lower than in all but a few other states.

3. Mississippi
> Pct. of workers in unions: 3.6%
> Union workers: 37,856 (7th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -31.6% (2nd lowest)
> Total employment, 2013: 1,040,242 (16th lowest)

Just 4.9% of public sector workers in Mississippi belonged to a union in 2013, the lowest percentage in the country, and far lower than the average 35.3% of public workers in the U.S. as a whole. Just 5.7% of the state’s private construction workers were union members last year, compared to 14.1% in the U.S. as a whole. The state also had the lowest median household income in the country at $37,095 in 2012, as well as the second highest percentage of residents using food stamps, 19.4%. State lawmakers recently passed a bill that restricts mass picketing by union members at a business or residence. A similar bill also outlaws unions from coercing companies to take a neutral stance during union membership drives.

2. Arkansas
> Pct. of workers in unions: 3.5%
> Union workers: 37,735 (6th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -24.2% (7th lowest)
> Total employment, 2013: 1,072,119 (17th lowest)

Arkansas had the second lowest percentage of unionized private sector workers in 2013 at just 1.4%, far lower than the 6.7% for the United States as a whole. The state also had among the lowest percentages of unionized workers in the public sector, at 10.9%. The percentage was among the lowest in the country and far below the 35.3% average in the United States. In addition to low union membership figures, the state has struggled to grow jobs over the past several years. Roughly 83,000 workers lost or left their employment between 2012 and 2013, one of the largest declines in the country. The state’s public sector had a net loss of nearly 9,000 employees in that time, including a decline of 18,000 in private construction, among the steepest losses in the nation.

1. North Carolina
> Pct. of workers in unions: 3.0%
> Union workers: 116,178 (22nd lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 4.3% (12th highest)
> Total employment, 2013: 3,881,111 (10th highest)

Just 3% of North Carolina’s workforce was part of a union last year, less than in any other state. Unsurprisingly, North Carolina is a right to work state, which means employees are not required to join or pay dues to unions. North Carolina is one of just three states with blanket statutes prohibiting collective bargaining for all public-sector employees. Union participation in the two sectors with usually the most collective bargaining — construction and manufacturing — is nearly non-existent in North Carolina. There were no union members among private construction workers at all last year, and just 2.3% of manufacturing workers belonged to a union, last and third-to-last, respectively.