Labor Unions and Labor Law

Massachusetts is more heavily unionized than the national average, with 15.9 percent of those employed belonging to a union. Yet despite the state’s pro-labor reputation, it ranks behind 17 other states–including New York, Rhode Island, and Connecticut–in union membership. In every state, there are more employees represented by unions – 17.4 percent in Massachusetts–than there are actual union members because some people who choose not to join their local union hold jobs that are nonetheless covered by union contracts. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is illegal to force any employee to become a union member. However, in Massachusetts and 28 other states employees may be compelled to pay so-called “agency fees”–to cover the cost of negotiating and administering a union contract that covers those employees. In the 21 other states–known as “right-to-work” states – non-union members cannot be forced to pay anything to the union. Only 33 states, including Massachusetts, allow public employees to bargain collectively.

Where they stand, 1998

Rank State Members of Unions (% of total employed) Employees represented by Unions (% of total) “Right-to-Work” State Collective Bargaining for Public Employees
1. Hawaii 26.5% 27.7% No Yes
2. New York 25.4% 26.7% No Yes
3. New Jersey 22.0% 23.7% No Yes
4. Michigan 21.6% 22.6% No Yes
5. Washington 21.2% 23.0% No Yes
6. Alaska 20.4% 22.9% No Yes
7. Ohio 19.0% 20.2% No Yes
8. Rhode Island 19.0% 19.6% No Yes
9. Illinois 18.9% 20.0% No Yes
10. Minnesota 18.8% 19.8% No Yes
11. Wisconsin 18.7% 19.6% No Yes
12. Connecticut 17.5% 18.1% No Yes
13. Nevada 17.0% 18.9% Yes Yes
14. Pennsylvania 16.3% 17.7% No Yes
15. Indiana 16.2% 17.7% No No
16. California 16.1% 18.1% No Yes
17. Oregon 16.1% 17.3% No Yes
18. Massachusetts 15.9% 17.4% No Yes
19. Maryland 14.1% 16.1% No Yes
20. Montana 13.9% 15.3% No Yes
U.S. average 13.9% 15.4% No No
21. Missouri 13.7% 15.1% No Yes
22. Delaware 13.6% 14.7% No Yes
23. Kentucky 13.1% 14.8% No No
24. Maine 12.6% 14.3% No Yes
25. West Virginia 12.6% 13.8% No No
26. Iowa 12.5% 14.8% Yes Yes
27. New Hampshire 11.0% 12.6% No Yes
28. Nebraska 10.3% 13.8% Yes Yes
29. Alabama 9.7% 11.8% Yes No
30. Wyoming 9.6% 11.3% Yes No
31. New Mexico 9.4% 11.7% No Yes
32. Vermont 9.4% 11.0% No Yes
33. Colorado 9.1% 10.0% No Yes
34. North Dakota 9.1% 9.6% Yes Yes
35. Oklahoma 8.6% 9.8% No No
36. Kansas 7.9% 9.7% Yes Yes
37. Tennessee 7.9% 9.5% Yes No
38. Idaho 7.8% 10.3% Yes Yes
39. Louisiana 7.8% 10.0% Yes No
40. Georgia 7.4% 8.4% Yes No
41. Utah 6.8% 8.6% Yes No
42. Virginia 6.8% 7.6% Yes No
43. Florida 6.7% 8.9% Yes Yes
44. Arizona 6.5% 7.7% Yes No
45. South Dakota 6.4% 8.0% Yes Yes
46. Arkansas 6.2% 7.3% Yes No
47. Texas 5.9% 7.0% Yes No
48. Mississippi 5.6% 9.7% Yes No
49. South Carolina 4.5% 5.1% Yes No
50. North Carolina 4.2% 5.2% Yes No