Union Membership Continues to Drop Nationwide

The Janus decision is having an effect on membership

Union membership continued its long-term downward trend — declining again in 2018. At the same time, the number of jobs across the nation increased as well as household income.

This information comes from the U.S. Department of Labor in its annual report. Union members declined by 0.2 percentage points — from 10.7 percent of the workforce to 10.5 percent. Other data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the U.S. has continued to gain jobs, adding 2.4 million in 2018 and with average weekly earnings up 3.0 percent — well above the rate of inflation.

Unions and their allies have attempted to spin the decline in union membership into a positive development. In a report for “The Guardian,” reporter Mike Elk contrasts the numbers with the U.S. Supreme Court decision last year in Janus, a decision which held that no public sector workers could be forced to contribute or be members of a union.

Elk notes that unions declined overall, but shows that in some states they increased membership. He also quotes union officials arguing that the decision has fired up much of their membership and points to states with teacher union strikes as examples.

Many states that saw teachers’ strikes have added members. Arizona added 24,000 new members in the public sector. Oklahoma added 16,000, Colorado 19,000, and Washington state added 35,000 members.

However, some unions did lose members. California lost 100,000 [public sector] union members, New Jersey lost 30,000 members, and Michigan lost 30,000 – states that didn’t have political mobilizations as large as those in Oklahoma and Arizona.

While some states with teacher strikes added members, others, like North Carolina and West Virginia, did not. And while the Janus decision has only been in place for less than a year, it may be having a larger effect than some believe. Union membership in states now subject to the Janus decision — states that were previously non-right-to-work — have seen the largest drop in union membership. In the 22 states that had mandatory bargaining and agency fees prior to Janus, union membership went down from 4,654,3000 to 4,603,600, a 1.1 percent decline. And that was during a period that saw state and local governments adding jobs.

As noted by The Guardian report, this decline was particularly pronounced in three states the Mackinac Center has been working in to educate public employees about their new rights: Michigan, California and New Jersey.

California lost 97,600 state and local government union members and saw total union membership drop from 15.5 percent to 14.7 percent of the workforce. New Jersey lost 38,100 state and local government union members and the total workforce rate dropped from 16.2 to 14.9 percent. Michigan also lost 30,400 state and local government union members and the total workforce rate declined from 15.6 to 14.5 percent.

Unionization in Michigan’s public and private sectors has changed a lot in the past 15 years. From 2003 to 2018, Michigan has gone from the 4th most unionized state to the 10th.

It’s unclear how much of the decline in unions is the result of Janus or long-term trends with a variety of sources. The important thing is that union members have a choice in membership; one public sector workers can exercise at

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.