The frequency with which New York workers are choosing to belong to a union last year continued to decline, falling to the lowest rate in more than a half-century.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated 20.7 percent of New York wage and salary workers belonged to a union last year, down from 22.2 percent in 2021. It was still high enough to be the nation’s second-highest, behind Hawaii, and more than double the national rate of 10.1 percent (down from 10.3 percent).

BLS began measuring union membership by state in 1964. New York reached its recent high in the mid-1970s, around 35 percent, as state and local government employees unionized under the 1967 Taylor Law, but has dropped steadily in each decade since. It hovered between 23 and 26 percent between 2006 and 2017, the last year it topped 23 percent.

 

The most recent decline appeared to come from both the total number of jobs increasing about 5 percent to 8.1 million and the number of union members decreasing about 3 percent to under 1.7 million.

By comparison, New York had an estimated 2.1 million union members in 2007, when it had a similar number of jobs.

A few factors likely feature prominently in this trend.

First, most of New York’s recent job growth has been in the private sector, which—unlike government employers—were heavily affected by the 2020 lockdowns. Private-sector jobs however are much less likely to be unionized.  About 16 percent of New York’s private-sector workers were union members in 2021, compared to 70 percent of government (local, state, or federal) employees.

It remains to be seen whether unionized and non-unionized private employers hired at different rates. The 2022 figures also partially reflect some mid-year wins by unions looking to organize workers at some Amazon warehouses and Starbucks locations.

Meanwhile New York’s heavily unionized public sector continues to be affected by the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, which ended Albany’s decades-long practice of forcing state and local government employees to pay a union regardless of whether they wanted to join. That dynamic buoyed union membership levels, leading more workers to agree to pay dues. The combined effect of people dropping their union membership, or choosing not to join in the first place, has likely pushed the level of union membership lower in the public sector.

Nationally the number of state and local governments employees climbed 3 percent last year to 17.1 million, but the rate of union membership fell from 35.9 percent to 35.1 percent.

BLS unionization figures are based on interviews during the year with roughly 3,500 New York households. The data can be noisy, and multi-year trends are more informative than any single-year change. It also bears noting that a difference exists between union membership (paying dues to a union) and the slightly larger population of employees whose position is represented by a union regardless of their membership status.

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