New York State remains a bastion for labor unions. Rochester, however, is well behind other metropolitan areas in the state.
In 2021, New York’s 1.7 million union members accounted for 22.2 percent of all wage and salary workers in the state, representing a slight increase from the previous year, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show. The state’s numbers were twice the average across the U.S. and represent the second-highest union membership rate in the nation after Hawaii.
Nationwide, union members accounted for 10.3 percent of employed wage and salary workers in 2021. The rate was down from 10.8 percent in 2020, when the rate increased due to a disproportionately large decline in the total number of nonunion workers compared with the decline in the number of union members, the BLS report states. Last year’s unionization rate for the nation was the same as the rate in 2019.
According to an annual review of union membership, coverage and earnings by economists Barry Hirsch and David Macpherson, Rochester had the lowest union membership rates for both private and public sectors across all metropolitan areas measured in New York.
In total, the city had a rate of 11.8 percent union membership, well below the state average of 22.2 percent. Public sector participation, usually a strength for unions, was also low in Rochester, getting just over the 50 percent mark. In the private sector, only 4.1 percent of employees had union membership.
Nationally, the last decade has seen falling union membership rates. In New York, union members have decreased by nearly 2 percent or about 200,000 workers since 2011.
Economic Policy Institute President Heidi Shierholz calls last year’s decline a “wakeup call to lawmakers.” Shierholz sees labor reform as essential to an equitable recovery from the pandemic.
The share of U.S. workers who belong to a union has fallen since 1983, when 20 percent of American workers were union members, according to the Pew Research Center. In a recent report, Pew Research said that majorities of Americans continue to see the long-term decline in the share of workers represented by unions as a bad thing for both the country and working people in the United States. These opinions haven’t changed much since last year.
A decline in membership hasn’t stopped union activity. Locally, Genesee Co-op Federal Credit Union’s 10 workers last month joined the Communications Workers of America.
Organizing drives among health care workers, journalists and graduate students have taken place nationwide as well. Starbucks workers in Buffalo were the first to unionize among all the coffee shop’s locations. Rochester is expected to follow.