Special Report

The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions

States With the Strongest Unions

10. Connecticut
> Pct. of workers in unions:
> Union workers: 231,060 (17th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -6.3% (25th smallest decline)
> Unemployment rate: 6.6% (14th highest)

Nearly 15% of Connecticut workers were members of a union, the 10th highest share nationwide. While Connecticut has stronger union membership than the vast majority of states, participation is waning. From 2005 through last year, the state’s total union membership count declined by 6.3%. However, this was not one of the larger decreases, as union membership has been declining across the nation. As in most of the states with the strongest unions, Connecticut residents were well educated — more than 37% of adults had at least a bachelor’s degree, the fourth highest percentage in the country.

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8. Rhode Island
> Pct. of workers in unions:
> Union workers: 68,275 (16th lowest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -13.3% (15th largest decline)
> Unemployment rate: 7.7% (3rd highest)

Rhode Island and Illinois are tied for the eighth highest union membership, at 15.1% of the workforce. Public employees are far more likely to join unions than private employees, and this was especially the case in Rhode Island. Nearly 67% of public employees were union members, the second highest share nationwide. While unions are intended to empower workers, the prevalence of unions does not guarantee a healthy labor market. In fact, like most of the states with the strongest unions, Rhode Island’s unemployment rate of 7.7% was well above the national rate of 6.2%. Macpherson suggested that strong union participation can actually mean a less flexible labor market, especially in an economic downturn. If employers are unable to lower wages for workers under collective bargaining agreements, they may choose layoffs as an alternative.

8. Illinois
> Pct. of workers in unions:
> Union workers: 829,757 (3rd highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -10.5% (18th largest decline)
> Unemployment rate: 7.1% (7th highest)

Slightly more than 5% of Illinois’ workforce was employed in construction, the third lowest percentage nationwide. However, Illinois construction workers are part of one of the most unionized industries in the country. Nearly 37% of private construction workers in Illinois were union members, the second highest participation rate in the industry, after only Hawaii. Nearly 13% of Illinois workers in the manufacturing sector, one of the higher percentages nationwide, and nearly 13% of those workers were union members — also one of the higher such rates.

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7. Oregon
> Pct. of workers in unions:
> Union workers: 243,177 (16th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: +14.3% (6th largest increase)
> Unemployment rate: 6.9% (9th highest)

Most of the states with the highest union membership rates saw declines in union membership over the past 10 years. In Oregon, however, unions actually added more than 30,000 members from 2005 through last year, an increase of 14.3% — each among the largest growths of all states. In June, Oregon’s legislature passed a bill mandating 40 hours of paid sick leave per year for all employees. The new law will take effect on January 1, 2016 provided that Governor Kate Brown signs the bill — which she is widely expected to do. Only three other states have passed such legislation. The bill is perhaps further indication of the strong support of labor rights and unions in the state.

6. California
> Pct. of workers in unions:
> Union workers: 2,468,827 (the highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: +1.9% (16th largest increase)
> Unemployment rate: 7.5% (4th highest)

California was one of only a few states where union membership actually increased from 2005 through last year. Over that period, the number of union members in the state grew by roughly 2%. In contrast, union membership fell 7.1% across the nation. Roughly 250,000 workers are members of The California Teamsters Public Affairs Council — Teamsters are one of the largest unions in North America. Overall, the state has nearly 2.5 million union members. Last year, the Teamsters started organizing Uber and Lyft drivers under the California App-Based Drivers Association. Uber and Lyft, both California startups, have so far considered drivers as contractors, which means the drivers and not the companies assume the expenses. A recent labor court decision, however, found that at least one driver should be considered an employee rather than contractor. This decision could have far reaching implications for the companies and the drivers.

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