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The Most Unionized Cities in America

With the global economy in flux due to the coronavirus outbreak, worker protections have been under increased scrutiny. Massive layoffs, especially in the retail, leisure, and hospitality industries, have left millions of Americans without a steady paycheck or benefits. Unfortunately, some of the hardest hit industries also report low union membership rates, making workers even more vulnerable.

Union membership in the U.S. has declined significantly over the past several decades—a result of more states passing “right-to-work” laws and changes in the composition of the U.S. labor force. Many of the fastest-growing industries have low rates of union participation. In 1979, 24 percent of U.S. employees belonged to a union. By contrast, only 10.3 percent of American workers were union members in 2019. In nominal numbers, union membership accounted for roughly 14.6 million workers in 2019, approximately 6.5 million fewer than the 1979 peak.

Chart1 Union membership over time

Industry sectors with the highest union membership rates include government, transportation, utilities, and construction. In each of these sectors, union membership rates are above the national average of 10.3 percent. By contrast, employees who work in finance, professional services, leisure, and wholesale/retail trade are far less likely to belong to a union. Union membership in each of these industries is below 5 percent.

Chart2 Union membership by industry

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Differences in local economies, politics, and legislation also impact union membership rates. Coastal states such as Hawaii, New York, and Washington have the highest membership rates, at 23.4 percent, 21 percent, and 18.8 percent, respectively. Conversely, more conservative Southern states, such as North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas, and Georgia, have membership rates below 5 percent.

Chart3 Union membership by U.S. state

To find the most unionized places in America, researchers at Construction Coverage, a review site for workers’ comp and commercial auto insurance, analyzed union membership and coverage data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and UnionStats.com. They ranked the metropolitan areas with the highest and lowest union membership rates. In addition to union membership, the researchers also included statistics on union representation, which is the share of workers whose terms of work are collectively negotiated (whether or not they are union members).  

Only metro areas with a population of 100,000 or more were included in the analysis. To improve relevance, metros were grouped into size cohorts based on population size: large metros (1,000,000 residents or more), midsize metros (350,000-999,999 residents), and small metros (less than 350,000 residents). Like the statewide trends, metros on the East and West Coast tend to have the highest union membership, while Southern metros have the least.

Here’s the full list of most and least unionized cities in America.

Chart4 Union membership for small and midsize metros

The Most Unionized Large Metros

California San Bernardino F49AKH

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1. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA

  • Union membership rate: 22.2%
  • Union representation rate: 24.2%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 398,721
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 434,233
  • Total employment: 1,792,823

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New York New York M3DGHF

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2. New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA

  • Union membership rate: 19.1%
  • Union representation rate: 20.8%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 1,693,495
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 1,839,468
  • Total employment: 8,847,590
Washington Seattle EBPD1F

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3. Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA

  • Union membership rate: 18.9%
  • Union representation rate: 20.2%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 381,489
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 407,159
  • Total employment: 2,017,109
California Sacramento state capitol F5F97B

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4. Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CA

  • Union membership rate: 17.6%
  • Union representation rate: 20.2%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 182,528
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 209,151
  • Total employment: 1,035,905
Rhode Island Providence ERPB9J

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5. Providence-Warwick, RI-MA

  • Union membership rate: 16.7%
  • Union representation rate: 18.5%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 122,526
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 135,688
  • Total employment: 734,125
Nevada Las Vegas ENFCG2

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6. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV

  • Union membership rate: 15.4%
  • Union representation rate: 17.1%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 153,730
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 170,667
  • Total employment: 998,129
Missouri Saint Louis ENGN68

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7. St. Louis, MO-IL

  • Union membership rate: 14.8%
  • Union representation rate: 15.8%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 192,430
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 206,058
  • Total employment: 1,302,999
California Oakland M3Y48C 1

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8. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA

  • Union membership rate: 14.5%
  • Union representation rate: 15.0%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 323,824
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 334,763
  • Total employment: 2,227,936
New York Buffalo PRP666

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9. Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Niagara Falls, NY

  • Union membership rate: 14.4%
  • Union representation rate: 16.3%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 70,638
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 79,812
  • Total employment: 489,287
Minnesota Minneapolis GTFB1H

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10. Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI

  • Union membership rate: 14.1%
  • Union representation rate: 14.6%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 249,827
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 258,417
  • Total employment: 1,771,101

The Least Unionized Large Metros

Texas Austin DJN886

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1. Austin-Round Rock, TX

  • Union membership rate: 2.3%
  • Union representation rate: 2.6%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 22,526
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 25,133
  • Total employment: 980,579

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North Carolina Raleigh ERCJCC

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2. Raleigh, NC

  • Union membership rate: 2.4%
  • Union representation rate: 3.8%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 17,115
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 27,574
  • Total employment: 721,802
North Carolina Charlotte CE83C5

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3. Charlotte-Concord-Gastonia, NC-SC

  • Union membership rate: 2.4%
  • Union representation rate: 3.2%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 29,149
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 38,638
  • Total employment: 1,218,180
Texas San Antonio HDEAHP

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4. San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX

  • Union membership rate: 3.4%
  • Union representation rate: 4.0%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 40,268
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 47,372
  • Total employment: 1,175,497
Texas Houston G6NFJ9

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5. Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX

  • Union membership rate: 3.7%
  • Union representation rate: 4.3%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 110,390
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 127,052
  • Total employment: 2,950,449

Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA

  • Union membership rate: 4.1%
  • Union representation rate: 5.1%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 114,555
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 139,506
  • Total employment: 2,761,236
Virginia Richmond K14CJF

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7. Richmond, VA

  • Union membership rate: 4.2%
  • Union representation rate: 5.1%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 24,338
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 29,398
  • Total employment: 578,295
Tennessee Nashville EFTP63

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8. Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN

  • Union membership rate: 4.6%
  • Union representation rate: 5.6%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 43,569
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 52,741
  • Total employment: 944,354
Texas Dallas K5DATJ

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9. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX

  • Union membership rate: 4.9%
  • Union representation rate: 6.6%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 183,799
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 250,742
  • Total employment: 3,786,232
Florida Tampa EE4CHC

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10. Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL

  • Union membership rate: 5.1%
  • Union representation rate: 6.3%
  • Workers who are members of unions: 68,502
  • Workers who are represented by unions: 84,781
  • Total employment: 1,352,880

Methodology & Detailed Findings

Data on union membership and coverage is from UnionStats.com. Metropolitan areas were ordered by union membership rate. In the event of a tie, the location with more total union members was ranked higher.

Union workers not only have more protection from unemployment, they also enjoy wage premiums over non-union workers. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics found that in 2019, the median wage for full-time union workers was $1,095 per week compared to $892 per week for full-time non-union workers. A major reason for this is union workers’ ability to benefit from the union’s collective bargaining power, rather than relying on individual negotiations with an employer.

Chart5 Union vs. non union wages over time

Union membership tends to be lowest for the youngest workers. Workers aged 16-24 and 25-34 have membership rates below 10 percent, compared to 11.8 percent for workers aged 35-44 and 12.6 percent for workers ages 45-54. Declining union membership among young workers could be an indication of even lower rates overall in the future.

Chart6 Union membership by age group

In times of crisis, workers not represented by unions may face worse consequences than workers represented by unions, and locations with lower union membership rates might also be less resilient to economic hardship. Looking toward a post-COVID-19 future, the need for emergency protections for vulnerable workers will remain a hot-button issue as the nation starts its path toward healing. 

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