By Jason Hart | Watchdog.org
More than half of the public employees in 13 states are union members, and government union membership rates exceed 25 percent in 27 states.
Labor unions work against employers — local, state and federal taxpayers, in the case of public employees. While slamming labor reforms as “anti-worker,” America’s four largest unions enrich themselves and their members at taxpayer expense.
The National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, American Federation of Teachers and American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have a combined total of more than 7.5 million members.
Over 3.3 million unionized public employees work in California, New York, Illinois, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, five of the states where government union membership rates exceed 50 percent.
Including private-sector workers, the national union membership rate was 11.1 percent in 2014 according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. Government union membership rates exceeded 11.1 percent in all but three states.
BLS does not report industry-specific unionization rates by state, but an agency spokesman directed Watchdog to the work of Barry Hirsch and David Macpherson, who catalog union membership details using BLS and Census Bureau data.
Hirsch, an economics professor at Georgia State University, and Macpherson, an economics professor at Trinity University, publish their estimates annually at unionstats.com.
Their 2014 data show a strong correlation between high public employee union membership rates and laws allowing public employee unions to take mandatory “fair share” fees from nonmembers. Government unions can take mandatory fees in the 12 states with the most heavily unionized government workforces.
Including Michigan and Wisconsin, where public-safety workers can be forced to pay fair share fees but teachers and other public employees cannot, 23 states have laws letting unions take mandatory fees from some or all public workers.
Recent reforms in several Midwestern states have allowed tens of thousands of workers to opt out of paying unions. Results have varied from one state to the next, but the trend has union bosses panicked.
Indiana passed a right-to-work law ending mandatory union dues in 2012, when 22.8 percent of Indiana’s government workers were union members. By 2014, the Hoosier State’s government union membership rate had increased to 25.5 percent.
In Wisconsin, where Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10 reforms freed thousands of public employees from forced union dues starting in 2011, the public union membership rate plummeted from 50.3 percent in 2011 to 30.9 percent in 2014.
Wisconsin had 187,064 public employee union members in 2011 and 123,239 public employee union members in 2014.
When Michigan’s right-to-work laws took effect in 2013, the state had 255,747 government union members and a government union membership rate of 54.8 percent. The subsequent decline of Michigan’s public employee unions has been gradual only when compared to Wisconsin.
Although many of Michigan’s government labor bosses rushed contract renewals to lock in mandatory fees, Michigan had 230,847 public union members and a public employee union membership rate of 50.5 percent last year.
The struggle for unions to keep forced dues flowing is ongoing. For Michigan teachers no longer covered by “fair share” contracts, the Michigan Education Association has taken pains to keep fee payers in the dark about their right to opt out.
In Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner infuriated unions this month by issuing an executive order ending fair share fees for state workers. Rauner, a Republican, relied on First Amendment arguments similar to those awaiting U.S. Supreme Court consideration in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association.
With or without fair share, unionization rates are much higher among public employees than in private industry.
Why has this been the case for decades? Private-sector unions often drive employers overseas or out of business, whereas public-sector unions can spend member dues to help elect politicians who will raise taxes.
New York had the highest government union membership rate in 2014, at 72.3 percent. Including private industry, 24.6 percent of New York workers were union members.
In Rhode Island last year, 15.1 percent of all workers were union members and 66.9 percent of public employees were union members.
Government union membership rates were 62.1 percent in New Jersey, 61.1 percent in Connecticut, 58.5 percent in Massachusetts, 55 percent in California and 54.7 percent in Illinois. All five states had overall union membership rates below 20 percent.
The exception to this pattern was Mississippi, where 3.7 percent of all workers and just 2.7 percent of government workers belonged to unions last year.
State public employee union membership totals and rates are listed below.
Union Membership, 2014
Union Membership Rate, 2014