Union Membership in New York State Slips to New Low

Unions now have the smallest percentage of the New York workforce since it was first measured in 1989. But it's still the highest in the nation.

Union membership in New York declined for the second straight year in 2011, hitting its lowest point since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping state records in 1989, federal officials reported Wednesday.

Last year, 24.1 percent of wage and salary workers in New York belonged to a union, down from 24.2 percent a year earlier. Union membership in the state peaked in 1991 at 29.1% and has been on a downward trajectory ever since.

“It’s a continuation of a long-term trend,” said Martin Kohli, regional economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Manufacturing jobs have gone away and they’ve only been partially offset by the rise in public-sector unionization.”

Unionization in the private sector last year fell to 13.5 percent from 13.7 percent in 2010, while the rate in the public sector rose to 72.2 percent from 70.5 percent, according to a separate analysis by unionstats.com, an online database.

There was a particularly sharp drop-off in unionization among private-sector construction workers, with their rate falling to 23.7 percent from 27.5 percent the previous year, the unionstats.com analysis showed. There was turmoil in the construction industry in 2011, as some two dozen labor contracts were up for renewal. The rise of nonunion construction served as a backdrop to the negotiations.

Private manufacturing union membership also fell, to 14.5 percent from 15.3 percent, unionstats.com showed.

The gap between public and private sector union membership has been widening, a report last year by City University of New York researchers showed.

As that gulf widens, it becomes harder for public-sector unions to hang on to their gains.

Despite reaching a low point, New York’s union membership rate last year was more than double the nation’s, which was at 11.8 percent. (View New York’s historical union membership rate as it compares with the national average.) In 2011, 21 states had unionization rates above the U.S. average, but only 15 had rates above 15 percent. New York’s union membership rate is the highest in the country.

New York had 1.9 million union members in 2011, second to California, which had 2.4 million among a far larger population.

Filed by Daniel Massey of Crain’s New York Business, a sister publication of Workforce Management. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.


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