Oregon union membership continues decline

At lowest level in years; still tops U.S. figure

SAN FRANCISCO - Union members accounted for 13.5 percent of wage and salary workers in Oregon last year, still above the national figure but a record low for the state in recent years, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday.

Assistant Commissioner for Regional Operations Richard Holden noted that the union membership rate for the state was at its peak in 1989, when it averaged 21.6 percent. Oregon's rate dropped from 14.8 percent in 2015.

Nationwide, union members accounted for 10.7 percent of employed wage and salary workers in 2016, down 0.4 percentage point from 2015. Since 1989, when comparable state data became available, union membership rates in Oregon have been above the U.S. average.

Oregon had 228,000 union members in 2016, the BLS reported. In addition to these members, another 39,000 wage and salary workers in Oregon were represented by a union on their main job or covered by an employee association or contract while not union members themselves,

Nationwide, 14.6 million wage and salary workers were union members last year and 1.7 million wage and salary workers were not affiliated with a union but had jobs covered by a union contract.

In 2016, 23 states had union membership rates above the U.S. average (10.7 percent), of which 8 had rates above 15.0 percent. Of the eight states with the highest rates, four bordered the Pacific Ocean and four were located in the Northeast.

New York had the highest rate at 23.6 percent, followed by Hawaii (19.9 percent) and Alaska (18.5 percent).

A total of 27 states and the District of Columbia had union membership rates below the national average in 2016, with nine states having union membership rates below 5 percent. Among these nine states, seven were located in the South, and two were in the West. South Carolina had the lowest rate at 1.6 percent. The next lowest rates were in North Carolina (3.0 percent), Arkansas (3.9 percent), and Georgia (3.9 percent).

Nationwide, union membership rates decreased over the year in 31 states and the District of Columbia, increased in 16 states, and were unchanged in 3 states.

State union membership levels depend on both the employment level and the union membership rate. The largest numbers of union members lived in California (2.6 million) and New York (1.9 million).

Over half of the 14.6 million union members in the U.S. lived in just seven states (California, 2.6 million; New York, 1.9 million; Illinois, 0.8 million; Pennsylvania, 0.7 million; and Michigan, New Jersey, and Ohio, 0.6 million each), though these states accounted for only about one-third of wage and salary employment nationally.

Technical Note

The estimates in this release are obtained from the Current Population Survey (CPS), which provides basic information on the labor force, employment, and unemployment. The survey is conducted monthly for the Bureau of Labor Statistics by the U.S. Census Bureau from a scientifically selected national sample of about 60,000 eligible households. The union membership data are tabulated from one-quarter of the CPS monthly sample and are limited to wage and salary workers. All self-employed workers are excluded.

Beginning in January of each year, data reflect revised population controls used in the CPS. Additional information about population controls is available on the BLS website at

Reliability of the estimates

Statistics based on the CPS are subject to both sampling and nonsampling error. When a sample, rather than the entire population, is surveyed, there is a chance that the sample estimates may differ from the true population values they represent. The exact difference, or sampling error, varies depending upon the particular sample selected, and this variability is measured by the standard error of the estimate. There is about a 90-percent chance, or level of confidence, that an estimate based on a sample will differ by no more than 1.6 standard errors from the true population value because of sampling error. BLS analyses are generally conducted at the 90-percent level of confidence. The state discussion in this release preserves the longtime practice of highlighting the direction of the movements in state union membership rates and levels regardless of their statistical significance.

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