Special Report

States With the Highest Union Membership

The U.S. labor force has for years been battered by foreign rivals and cheaper labor overseas, as well as a shift to more technologically driven workplaces, and as a result, the state of the American union is at its lowest ebb in many generations. In 2021, 14 million American workers were union members, or just 10.3% of the workforce in the U.S. That is a decline of almost a full percentage point from 2013. 

While in some states unions have lost most of their power, in others, unions still have clout. To identify the states with the highest union membership, 24/7 Wall St. used union membership data from Union Stats, a resource compiled using the Current Population Survey and Bureau of Labor Statistics. Union data is current as of Feb. 1, 2022. Ten-year changes in membership and employment are also from Union Stats, while average yearly wage is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. 

In addition to challenges by competition from abroad, organized labor has been confronted by robust and sophisticated management tactics to keep unions out of the workplace. (Unions have tactics too. Here are 31 of the largest worker strikes in American history.)

Nationally, the number of right-to-work states has swelled to 27, further eroding union’s influence in the workplace. In right-to-work states, employees hired by a union shop get to choose whether to join the union and pay union dues or not. Under the National Labor Relations Act, no one can force or otherwise compel a new or existing employee to join, stay, or leave the union against their will.

In early April, workers at Amazon’s Bessemer, Alabama, warehouse overwhelmingly voted against unionizing. Seattle-based Amazon employed anti-union tactics such as influencing workers at audience meetings to discourage them from voting for the union.

Another setback occurred in New Jersey, a state with one of the nation’s higher percentages of organized labor, where a union with alleged past links to organized crime withdrew its petition to unionize an Amazon facility in Bayonne.

All is not dire for organized labor. A recent Gallup Poll found public approval about unions is at a 15-year high of 62%. (These are states with the most unfair dismissals.)

Organized labor has scored some recent victories. Amazon workers at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York — a state with one of the higher percentages of union members — voted in early April to join a union. That is the first time that has happened at one of the e-commerce giant’s U.S. facilities.

Also in April, Starbucks workers at five stores in Virginia — a right-to-work state — voted to be represented by a union. They are set to join 26 other Starbucks stores that have organized. A Buffalo store was the first Starbucks to unionize in December.

Click here to see states with the highest union membership

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