public union membership pa

Public Sector Unions are Most Prominent Where Workers’ Rights are Limited

Harrisburg, Pa., March 11, 2024 — Overall union membership is declining in America, but the same is not true for public sector unions. Across the United States, 43.5 percent of state government employees are unionized, and two-thirds (66.46 percent) of unionized employees pay dues, according to a new report from the Commonwealth Foundation.

The labor report, titled, “State of the Unions: Examining Union Membership in State Government,” showcases where union membership is strongest and weakest in the U.S. public sector. The report illustrates the relationship between union membership and public sector labor laws: States with legal environments favorable to government unions have higher unionization rates, while states with worker-friendly legal environments tend to have lower union membership metrics.

In short, liberal-leaning states tend to have more prominent unions. 

Connecticut’s entire government workforce belongs to public unions, while North Dakota’s unionization rate is just 0.57 percent. New York has the most state government employees represented by a union (219,081) and the most state government dues-paying members (174,149).

In this first-of-its-kind analysis, the Commonwealth Foundation utilized 2022 Census Bureau data as well as surveys of public employment and payroll to determine union membership across 26 states. By blending the union membership rates with the unionization rates, the report calculates a “union density” metric to gauge union entrenchment across various state governments. Twenty-three states did not provide union membership metrics, while several states—most notably California—exempt public sector unions from transparency laws.

“Some state capitals are even more beholden to public-sector union executives than we thought,” said report co-author and Commonwealth Foundation Senior Fellow for Labor Policy David Osborne“Unfortunately, these union executives use their power in state government to increase their own political celebrity at the expense of taxpayers and sometimes workers themselves.”

The Commonwealth Foundation has set out to provide the public with a better understanding of the influence that taxpayer-financed unions wield. A previous Commonwealth Foundation study detailed the $700 million public sector unions spent on politics—with almost all of the money going to Democrats and liberal causes—in the 2022 election cycle.

Read the full Commonwealth Foundation report here.


The Commonwealth Foundation turns free-market ideas into public policies, fostering prosperity for all Pennsylvanians.