The Most Unionized States in America

Union membership in the U.S. reached a new low last year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), just 10.5 percent of all employees were union members in 2018 compared to more than 20 percent in 1983. In the wake of the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, which prohibits mandatory fees for non-members to pay for collective bargaining, labor unions will see a further decline in the number of “fee payers,” but experts are uncertain how the decision will impact membership.

Despite membership falling, public approval for unions is the highest in 15 years. Union proponents argue that collective bargaining ensures fair treatment and higher wages, thus reducing inequality. In fact, union members have long enjoyed wage premiums over their non-union counterparts. In 2018, union members earned 22 percent more than non-union workers.

Critics claim that unions increase unemployment and reduce firm flexibility. They celebrate the Supreme Court ruling, which allows those working in unionized jobs, such as public education and local government, to avoid mandatory cuts in their paychecks. The Labor Movement, on the other hand, fears the ruling motivates “free riders,” who benefit from union-won benefits without paying, and that all workers will eventually lose out.

While the total number of union workers is similar in the public and the private sectors, private unions are quickly losing members. The fall is the most profound in the transportation and utilities sector, where membership decreased from 26 to 17 percent since 2000. The construction industry, with the second highest union membership rate after Transportation, follows the national trend, declining from almost 18 to 13 percent over the same time period. The most hopeful sector for unions appears to be the education and health services sector, which shows a slight uptick since 2000.

As unions fight to survive, a low membership rate among young workers only makes matters worse. Currently, workers aged 55-64 years have the highest membership rates, followed by 45-54-year-olds. Among workers between the ages of 25 and 34, the union membership rate is just 9.3 percent. In addition to winning young workers’ political support, labor unions will also need to persuade an already cash-strapped generation that joining a union is worth a portion of their paycheck.

Given the wide range in public opinion and legislative differences among the states, Construction Coverage wanted to find out which states are the most unionized. Its researchers used data from the BLS to calculate the union membership rate for each state (i.e. the percentage of employed workers that are union members).

The analysis shows that states in the Northeast and the West have the highest union membership, while Southern states show the lowest numbers. Construction Coverage also found a statistically significant relationship between median household income and union membership, further supporting that unions do help lift wages for their workers. Perhaps surprisingly, the analysis finds no significant relationship between union membership and financial inequality or unemployment. This hints that at the state level, union membership alone is not enough to reduce inequality nor bar many workers from new jobs.

Here are the states with the greatest share of union workers:

States With the Highest Union Membership Rates

Maine capitol H8CWEH

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15. Maine

  • Union membership rate: 12.9%
  • Total number of union members: 74,000
  • 10-year union membership change: 0.6 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $37,120
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 3.4%
Massachusetts Boston state capitol J9C0JC

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14. Massachusetts

  • Union membership rate: 13.7%
  • Total number of union members: 464,000
  • 10-year union membership change: -2.0 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $48,680
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 3.3%
Illinois capitol DYN12C

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13. Illinois

  • Union membership rate: 13.8%
  • Total number of union members: 786,000
  • 10-year union membership change: -2.8 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $39,950
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 4.3%
Oregon state capitol P6B666

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12. Oregon

  • Union membership rate: 13.9%
  • Total number of union members: 242,000
  • 10-year union membership change: -2.7 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $39,580
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 4.2%
Nevada capitol Carson City AHYJH1

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11. Nevada

  • Union membership rate: 13.9%
  • Total number of union members: 191,000
  • 10-year union membership change: -2.8 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $35,550
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 4.6%
Michigan Lansing capitol J9HMN7

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10. Michigan

  • Union membership rate: 14.5%
  • Total number of union members: 625,000
  • 10-year union membership change: -4.3 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $37,620
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 4.1%
California Sacramento state capitol F5F97B 1

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9. California

  • Union membership rate: 14.7%
  • Total number of union members: 2,405,000
  • 10-year union membership change: -3.7 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $42,430
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 4.2%
New Jersey capitol CW4X0J

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8. New Jersey

  • Union membership rate: 14.9%
  • Total number of union members: 587,000
  • 10-year union membership change: -3.4 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $43,600
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 4.1%
Minnesota capitol B6ETX3

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7. Minnesota

  • Union membership rate: 15.0%
  • Total number of union members: 395,000
  • 10-year union membership change: -1.1 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $42,630
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 2.9%
Connecticut capitol KNXBR2

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6. Connecticut

  • Union membership rate: 16.0%
  • Total number of union members: 268,000
  • 10-year union membership change: -0.9 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $46,920
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 4.1%
Rhode island capitol GF58B2

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5. Rhode Island

  • Union membership rate: 17.4%
  • Total number of union members: 83,000
  • 10-year union membership change: 0.9 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $42,040
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 4.1%
Alaska capitol J8TC7K

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4. Alaska

  • Union membership rate: 18.5%
  • Total number of union members: 55,000
  • 10-year union membership change: -5.0 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $48,020
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 6.6%
Washington Olympia state capitol P7GG4W

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3. Washington

  • Union membership rate: 19.8%
  • Total number of union members: 649,000
  • 10-year union membership change: No change
  • Median income (all workers): $46,100
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 4.5%
New York capitol JP4Y32

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2. New York

  • Union membership rate: 22.3%
  • Total number of union members: 1,872,000
  • 10-year union membership change: -2.6 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $44,990
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 4.1%
Hawaii capitol JC6EY4

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1. Hawaii

  • Union membership rate: 23.1%
  • Total number of union members: 139,000
  • 10-year union membership change: -1.2 percentage points
  • Median income (all workers): $42,480
  • Unemployment rate (all workers): 2.4%

Methodology & Full Results

Data on the total number and the proportion of employees who are union members in the private and the public sector comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Current Population Survey 2018. The same source is used for data on median wages for union and non-union members, union membership in the private sector by industry, and union membership by age group. The analysis considers data from January to December 2018. The 10-year union membership growth variable is calculated as the difference between the proportion of union membership in 2018 and 2008 for every state.

Data on unemployment is from the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018 Local Area Unemployment Statistics Survey. Median income per state is from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018 Occupational Employment Statistics Survey. Information about inequality is from the U.S. Census Bureau 2017 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates.

For a complete list of results for all states, see the original version on Construction Coverage.

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