The State of the Unions 2012: 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 2012

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, significant erosion has occurred there in recent years, as Figure 1a shows. Nearly one-fourth (22.3 percent) of all wage and salary workers residing in New York City were union members in 2011-12, compared to 22.9 percent a year earlier, and 24.6 percent two years earlier. This proportion was slightly higher in New York State (23.7 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 11.7 percent. In absolute terms, New York State had more union members — almost 1.9 million — than any state except California, which has a far larger population. In 2011-12, there were about 735,000 union members in the five boroughs of New York City, representing almost two out of every five union members in the state. At the national and state level, and to an even greater extent in New York City, losses in union membership have been disproportionately concentrated in the private sector over the past decade, as Figure 1b shows. The Great Recession that began in late 2007 accelerated the long-term decline in private- sector unionization in the City (see page 5). In the public sector, by contrast, union density has been relatively stable, and has actually increased slightly in New York City recently (see Figure 1c), although ongoing budget cuts and, in other parts of the country, direct attacks on collective bargaining rights for public-sector workers may change that in the future.