Special Report

The States With the Strongest and Weakest Unions

7. New Jersey
> Pct. of workers in unions:
> Union workers: 595,058 (7th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -24.8% (3rd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 4.3% (19th lowest)

The share of unionized workers in New Jersey has dropped by nearly 25% since 2005. Only Michigan and Wisconsin reported a larger decrease in their unionized workforce than New Jersey over the same time period. Workers in both the private and public sectors in New Jersey reported a decline in union membership. Despite lower union participation, the Garden State is still home to one of the largest cohorts of union workers in the United States. Slightly more than 15% of the state’s workers are union members. Last month, unionized NJ Transit workers threatened to strike and negotiated a 21% raise over the next nine years.

6. California
> Pct. of workers in unions:
> Union workers: 2,486,173 (the highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 2.6% (18th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.5% (11th highest)

California has by far the largest unionized workforce in the country. There are close to 2.5 million union workers in the state, greater than the combined membership of 23 other states. While this is at least partially because California is the most populous state, it also has the sixth highest union membership rate — 15.9% of workers in the Golden State are active members of organized labor. Public sector workers are much more likely to be unionized than those in the private sector, and about 56% of the state’s workers are employed by governments are in unions. The state’s substantial unions were part of the effort to raise the minimum wage in California to $15 an hour. Governor Jerry Brown signed the wage hike bill last week.

5. Washington
> Pct. of workers in unions:
> Union workers: 499,779 (10th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: -4.5% (23rd lowest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.8% (9th highest)

Nearly half a million people in Washington are card-carrying union members. Over the last 10 years,union membership increased by roughly 20,000 in the private sector. Despite private sector gains, public sector union membership declined by 43,020, resulting in a net 4.5% drop in union membership across the state. Union participation peaked in Washington in 1993, when 23.8% of workers were union members. Aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing famously relocated its headquarters from Washington to Illinois in the early 2000s in a move many attribute to the company’s turbulent relationship with local unions.

4. Connecticut
> Pct. of workers in unions:
> Union workers: 268,728 (15th highest)
> 10-yr. change in union membership: 8.9% (15th highest)
> Unemployment rate: 5.5% (11th highest)

Union membership on the national level is down by 5.7% over the past decade, and it has declined by more in many of the most unionized states. In Connecticut, however, the number of union members has actually increased by 8.9%. In the private sector, union membership rates are not especially high, as just 7.5% of the private sector workforce are in a union, higher than the national share of 6.7%. Among the state’s government employees, however, organized labor is much more prevalent. Nearly two-thirds of Connecticut’s public sector workers are union members, many of whom are currently threatening to wield their influence. The state, which is facing a budget crisis, is planning to lay off employees. One of the public sector unions, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), has released a media campaign opposing the layoffs and hosted a rally at the state capitol at the end of the month.

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