The State of the Unions 2011: A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State and the United States

Source: Ruth Milkman, Laura Braslow, Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies and the Center for Urban Research, CUNY, September 2011

These are difficult times for organized labor in the United States. In addition to the challenges of an anemic economic recovery and persistently high unemployment, unions are confronting continuing attacks on public-sector collective bargaining rights and aggressive demands for concessions from both public- and private-sector employers. Against this background, the long-term decline of unionism has continued unabated. Although relative to the nation as a whole, organized labor remains strong in New York City and State, substantial erosion has occurred there in recent years, as Figure 1a shows. Nearly one-fourth (22.9 percent) of all wage and salary workers residing in New York City were union members in 2010-11, compared to 24.6 percent a year earlier. This proportion was slightly higher in New York State (24.1 percent), which ranks first in union density among the nation’s fifty states, and whose unionization rate is more than double the U.S. average of 11.9 percent. In absolute terms, New York State had more union members – over 1.9 million – than any state except California, which has a far larger population. In 2010-11, there were over 750,000 union members in the five boroughs of New York City, comprising about 40 percent of all union members in the State. At the national, state, and city levels alike, losses in union membership have been disproportionately concentrated in the private sector over the past decade, as Figure 1b shows. In the public sector, union density has been relatively stable (see Figure 1c), although government budget cuts and recent attacks on collective bargaining rights for public- sector workers may change that in the future.