by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
The percentage of government workers who belong to a union dipped again in 2018 and has hit a 40-year low. Just 33.9 percent of government workers now belong to a union, according to government figures, the lowest point since 1978, and down from a peak of 38.7 percent in the 1990s. Behind those numbers has been the failure of government labor groups to bounce back from a steep decline in government employment that began in 2009. That year, unions boasted 7.897 million government workers. Last year, however, just 7.162 million workers were in public unions, a loss of some 735,000 members, even though overall government employment has rebounded to near pre-recession levels. Perhaps most ominously for unions, the trend downward doesn’t seem to be slowing, with unions losing 50,000 members last year alone. By contrast, overall government employment in 2018 grew by 167,000.
The trend is steepest in heavily unionized, labor-friendly states. California has led the way, with a loss of more than 163,000 government-union members since 2008. The share of government workers in labor groups has declined in the Golden State from 57.3 percent to 50.3 percent, even as overall government employment has recovered. The most heavily unionized state, New York, has seen its government labor membership slip by 123,000, and its share of unionized government workers fall from 70.5 percent to 66.6 percent.