Union membership has been declining for decades. The Current Population Survey conducted by the Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Labor shows unionization at 29 percent nationally and 36 percent in New York State as of 1964. By 2017, the national average had fallen to 11 percent and New York to 24 percent.
State policy is one factor. The National Conference of State Legislators reports that “right-to-work”provisions prohibiting mandatory union membership have been approved in 28 states beginning with Florida in 1943, with Kentucky and Missouri passing laws just last year.
Another factor is the decline in manufacturing, traditionally a union stronghold. Nationally, there were 7.8 million union members working in manufacturing workers in 1973, or 39 percent of the total manufacturing workforce. By 2017 the manufacturing workforce has shrunk to 14.7 million from 20.1 million in 1973 and only 10 percent of these were union members. Globalization has also played a role as competition from nations with cheap labor have put pressure on manufacturing firms to cut costs.
Public sector unions have stood their ground in many states, with New York State leading the nation at 67 percent. South Carolina is at the other extreme with 7 percent of public employees as union members.
Unionization varies by metropolitan area, too. As noted by Adam Urbanski in his interview with the Beacon, the level of public sector unionization in New York is higher than in most of the Michigan and Wisconsin regions. Eighteen percent of all Rochester workers are union members. Sixty-two percent of public employees are members of a union. With its large public sector workforce, the Albany metropolitan area has one of the highest union-member shares in the nation.