New York no longer has highest unionization rate

New York drops to 22.3% membership in latest federal estimate; nation dips to 10.5%
Capital Region Verizon union workers go on strike in 2016.
Capital Region Verizon union workers go on strike in 2016.

Hawaii edged out New York in 2018 as the state with the most heavily unionized workforce.

An estimated 22.3 percent of New Yorkers were union members in 2018, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday, down from 23.8 percent in 2017. Hawaii union membership hit 23.1 percent in 2018, up from 21.3 percent a year earlier.

The percentage of New York workers represented by unions, which includes non-union members working in jobs covered by union contracts, was 24.1 percent in 2018, down from 25.3 percent a year earlier. Hawaii led the nation in this category as well, with 24.3 percent represented in 2018.

No other states had more than 20 percent union membership in 2018. Coming closest were Washington (19.8 percent), Arizona (18.5 percent) and Rhode Island (17.4 percent).

The states with the lowest 2018 union membership were North and South Carolina (2.7 percent), Utah (4.1 percent),  and Virginia and Texas (4.3 percent).

California, the most populous state in the nation, had only a 14.7 percent union membership rate but had the most union members: 2.41 million. New York, by contrast, had 1.87 million union members and Hawaii just 139,000.

Nationwide, the 2018 union membership rate was 10.5 percent, down from 10.7 percent in 2017 and down from 20.1 percent in 1983, the first year for which comparable data are available.

The numbers are estimates that the Bureau of Labor Statistics derives from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey, and they exclude self-employed people. 

The BLS noted that the sample group, while scientifically selected, is small enough that it contains a margin of error that might partly account for year-to-year-swings like the decrease shown in New York from 2017 to 2018. Another factor might be that New York is gradually losing workers ages 45 to 64, the age group most heavily represented by unions, the BLS said.

Other data gleaned from the BLS union membership report include:

  • Public-sector workers (33.9 percent) were represented at more than quintuple the rate of private-sector workers (6.4 percent).
  • The highest unionization rates were among workers in protective service occupations (33.9 percent) and in education, training and library occupations (33.8 percent).
  • The occupational groups with the lowest unionization were farming/fishing/forestry (2.4 percent) and sales (3.3 percent). 
  • More men (11.1 percent) are members of unions than women (9.9 percent).
  • Nonunion workers’ median weekly earnings were only 82 percent of earnings for union members ($860 vs. $1,051); the BLS noted many other factors can influence these numbers.
  • Local government workers had the highest unionization rates (40.3 percent); the lowest rates were in finance (1.3 percent), food/beverage service (1.3 percent), and professional/technical services (1.5 percent).
  • Among race and ethnic groups, black workers were most heavily unionized (12.5 percent), followed by white (10.4 percent), Hispanic (9.1 percent) and Asian (8.4 percent).
  • Union membership rate for full-time workers (11.6 percent) was more than twice the rate for part-timers (5.4 percent). 
  • The age groups with the highest level of union memberships were 45 to 54 years old (12.8 percent) and 55 to 64 (13.3 percent).

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