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The 10 states with the strongest unions

  • Michigan's right-to-work legislation has renewed debate over organized labor
  • New York has highest rate of union membership at 24%
The 10 states with the strongest unions

Michigan’s right-to-work battle has caused quite an uproar. The transformation of such a heavily unionized state has undoubtedly renewed the debate over organized and big labor. For America’s young people who’ve grown up in a society in which most people work in non-union workplaces, the dispute over unions and right-to-work laws may seem irrelevant. But in some parts of the United States, unions still have a significant influence over certain industries.

When Gov. Rick Snyder signed the right-to-work legislation into law, Michigan became the 24th U.S. right-to-work state. It also became the only right-to-work state among the top 10 states with the highest union membership.

Right-to-work laws make it illegal to force workers to join unions or pay dues. In 2011, 7.6 million employees in the U.S. public sector belonged to a union, while 7.2 million workers in the private sector were union members, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here’s the big difference: The union membership rate for public-sector workers last year was 37%, while the rate for private-sector workers was only 6.9%.

The highest unionization rates in 2011 were in education, training, and library occupations (37%), as well as protective service occupations (35%), according to the BLS.

Right-to-work laws: 5 things you should know

Private sector union membership has actually increased over the past couple of years, as the private sector added jobs. On the other hand, public sector job growth has been pretty sluggish. According to 24/7 Wall St., between 2010 and 2011, the number of government jobs fell by 600,911, and the number of public sector union members with jobs dropped by 72,942.

New York has the highest rate of union membership at 24.1%. The United Federation of Teachers is the state’s famous teachers union, known for its power and influence with about 200,000 members. Last year, the UFT sued the Department of Education to prevent the release of New York City’s Teacher Data Reports, which evaluated and ranked teachers based on their students’ test scores.

The DOE stopped producing the reports and handed that part of the teacher evaluation process over the state. The State Education Department then contracted with another third-party vendor to introduce a new type of report that uses a “growth” model, in which classroom observation accounts for the majority of a teacher’s evaluation, rather students’ testing results.

North Carolina has the lowest rate of union membership, where only 2.9% of workers are union members.

According to 24/7 Wall St. and data compiled by the BLS, here are the 10 states with the highest rates of union membership:

1. New York

  • Workforce unionized: 24.1%
  • Union workers: 1,904,425
  • Total employed 2011: 7,915,811 (3rd most)

2. Alaska

  • Workforce unionized: 22.1%
  • Union workers: 67,572
  • Total employed 2011: 305,485 (3rd fewest)

3. Hawaii

  • Workforce unionized: 21.5%
  • Union workers: 112,756
  • Total employed 2011: 525,057

4. Washington

  • Workforce unionized: 18.9%
  • Union workers: 517,104
  • Total employed 2011: 2,729,039

5. Michigan

  • Workforce unionized: 17.5%
  • Union workers: 670,935
  • Total employed 2011: 3,843,814 (9th most)

6. Rhode Island

  • Workforce unionized: 17.4%
  • Union workers: 78,744
  • Total employed 2011: 453,504 (8th fewest)

7. California

  • Workforce unionized: 17.1%
  • Union workers: 2,375,553
  • Total employed 2011: 13,927,053 (the most)

8. Oregon

  • Workforce unionized: 17.1%
  • Union workers: 269,202
  • Total employed 2011: 1,575,163 (24th most)

9. Connecticut

  • Workforce unionized: 16.8%
  • Union workers: 258,666
  • Total employed 2011: 1,540,072 (28th most)

10. Illinois

  • Workforce unionized: 16.2%
  • Union workers: 875,890 (3rd most)
  • Total employed 2011: 5,410,480 (5th most)

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