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These 5 maps show unions are losing ground in the states

The state of the unions is weak. Or, at least, weakening.

Over the past decade, the share of workers who are union members has fallen in 43 states while the share of jobs represented by unions has declined in 41 states, according to an analysis of new and historical Labor Department data. The new figures out Friday showed that 11.3 percent of wage and salary workers were union members in 2013, the same as the year prior but down from a notch above 20 percent three decades earlier. Membership in 2013 was highest in New York, at 24.4 percent, and lowest in North Carolina, at 3 percent.

But Friday’s data offer only a snapshot. Unions have suffered losses of members, representation, approval and powers in recent years.

Loss of powers

It’s no secret that unions — especially the public-sector variety — have had a big target on them in some states lately.

Fifteen state legislatures in 2011 and 2012 passed laws restricting the collective bargaining rights of public-employee unions or their ability to collect dues from nonmembers they represented, according to an analysis conducted for the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank focused on reducing inequality and advancing pro-worker policies. The early 2011 fight in Wisconsin, under Republican Gov. Scott Walker, was perhaps the most high-profile effort.  (Disclaimer: The author moderated an EPI panel for the paper’s unveiling.) 

Nineteen states introduced “right to work” bills in 2012 that would have given authority to the state to decide whether union membership was required for a person to work. (In states without such laws, employees can be compelled to get, or at least pay for, union representation.) Michigan and Indiana became right-to-work states that year, bringing the national total to 24 states. Similar bills were proposed in an additional 21 states last year, although only Tennessee, already a right-to-work state, passed one.  

States curtailing collective bargaining from 2011 to 2012. (Source: Economic Policy Institute)
States curtailing collective bargaining from 2011 to 2012. (Source: Economic Policy Institute)

Union approval is declining, too

As states turn on unions, so, too, has public opinion. Approval fell to an all-time low in 2009, when for the first time less than half the nation approved of labor unions. Unions have enjoyed a recent rebound, although the current 54 percent approval rate remains below the historical average.

Union approval ratings. (Gallup)
Union approval ratings. (Gallup)

Membership is down in 43 states since 2003

Over the past decade, only seven states have seen an increase in union membership, as a share of all workers. Membership in Alabama rose the most. There, 10.7 percent of workers are union members, a 2.6 percentage point increase since 2003. Vermont saw a 1.2 percentage point increase. Alaska, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and Nevada all saw increases of less than one percentage point.

Michigan saw membership decline by 5.6 percentage points, more than in any other state. Missouri was next with a 4.6 percentage point decline, followed by Ohio with a 4.1 point decline.

(Maps below; list at the bottom.)

How much union membership changed from 2003 to 2013 (percentage point change):


Where union membership stands, as of 2013 (percent of employed):

Union-represented jobs have declined in 41 states

The share of workers represented by a union — either members or those whose contracts are union-covered — also fell in most states.

Only nine saw increases in union representation as a share of total workers. Starting with the largest increase, they were: Alabama, which saw a 2.2 percentage point increase, Oklahoma, Vermont, North Carolina, Nevada, Rhode Island, Kentucky, Colorado and New York. Union representation in Michigan declined by 6.2 percentage points, followed by New Jersey (4.6pp) and Ohio (4pp).

(Maps below; list at the bottom.)

How much union representation changed from 2003 to 2013 (percentage point change):

Where union representation stands, as of 2013 (percent of employed):

Another way of looking at change over the past decade

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.



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