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SmartAsset: States With the Strongest Unions - 2022 Edition

Union members tend to earn more than their non-union peers. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that non-union workers have median weekly earnings that are only 83% of the earnings for union workers. And while union membership is declining nationally – declining by 241,000 workers from 2020 to 2021 – unions in some states are more robust than in others.

SmartAsset examined data from both the BLS and UnionStats.com to identify and rank the states with the strongest unions in 2022. Data points include the total union membership percentage by state and the change in membership over the last four years. Additionally, we compared wages for highly unionized jobs with those from the total workforce in each state. For more details on our data sources and how we put all of the information together, read our Data and Methodology section below.

This is SmartAsset’s 2022 study on the states with the strongest unions. You can read the 2021 edition here.

Key Findings

  • States with higher union membership rates have higher wages. Six of the top 10 states have average worker wages that rank in the top fifth of states. Additionally, seven out of the top 10 states in our overall rankings have particularly high annual wages for both middle school teachers and firefighters, two of the occupations with the highest union membership rates.
  • In two states, more than one in five workers is part of a union. Though nationally union members make up only about 10% of the workforce, that figure exceeds 20% in two states. In Hawaii and New York, union membership is 22.36% and 22.24%, respectively.

1. Washington

Washington climbed from third place in last year’s study to claim the top spot as the state with the strongest unions in 2022. It ranked in the top five states of all of our categories and was one of only a handful of states that continues to climb in its overall union membership. The state has the third-highest average wage for all workers ($68,740), but occupations with large numbers of union workers are outpacing the overall number. In one example, the overall salary for middle school teachers is 121.41% higher ($83,460 vs. $68,740) when compared with all wages.

2. Oregon

Oregon drops one spot this year with a dip in rankings across different metrics. However, the state does still place in the top 10 for average union-worker wages when compared with overall wages. Overall union membership also grew the third-most over the past four years (21.23%), with only Georgia and Arizona beating it out.

3. California

Across all 50 states, union membership is the seventh-highest in California, with almost 16% of workers being part of a union. Moreover, California has strong salaries for both teachers and firefighters - two of the occupations with the highest union member rates. BLS data shows that in 2021 the average annual wage for middle school teachers and firefighters was $92,350 and $80,990, respectively.

4. New Jersey

New Jersey has climbed into the top five of our rankings from 11th place in 2021. While the union membership slid over 3% from four years ago, the state now ranks first in the metric for the average wage of firefighters when compared with average wages for all workers. The state also ranks in the top 10 for both overall wages and the comparison of middle school teacher wages. It also has a higher percentage of union workers than most states, at 16.19%.

5. Pennsylvania

Though union membership is on the decline nationally, Pennsylvania is one of the few states where it is rising. From 2017 to 2021, the number of union members grew by 4.15% - the ninth-highest increase in our study. Pennsylvania also ranks in the top 15 for both firefighter ($58,400) and middle school teacher ($68,850) salaries.

6. Massachusetts

In Massachusetts, close to 13% of workers belong to a union. This is the 14th-highest rate in our study. Beyond that, Massachusetts ranks in the top 10 for all wage-related categories, including being ranked first for total wages across all occupations ($72,940) and third for middle school teacher wages ($85,740).

7. New York

Wages in New York are high relative to most other states, though this is also accompanied by a higher cost of living. Specifically, the state ranks second-best for the average wage for all workers($70,460), highest for the average wage for middle school teachers ($94,690) and fourth-best for its average wage for firefighters ($72,670). New York also has the second-highest union membership rate overall, at 22.24%.

8. Rhode Island

Rhode Island fell from second overall in last year’s rankings to eighth in 2022. The total percentage of the workforce currently holding union membership was one of the key factors. Last year, union members made up 17.79% of the state's workforce, while this year it dropped to 15.76%. Wages fell in the state across the board, regardless of union membership. Though it still ranks 11th-best for the average annual wage for all workers ($62,120), 11th-best for the average annual wage for middle school teachers ($73,210) and 10th-highest for the average annual wage for firefighters ($62,860).

9. Hawaii

Hawaii ranks best for its union membership rate, which is highest in our study, at 22.36%. Additionally, it has the 21st-highest average annual wage for middle school teachers ($63,100) and seventh-highest average annual wage for fighters ($67,540). Salaries for all workers - both unionized and not - are also high. BLS data shows that in 2021, the average wage for all workers was $59,760.

10. Maryland

Maryland rounds out our list of the top 10 states with the strongest unions. The state performed well across all wage categories, ranking seventh-best for the average annual wage for all workers ($65,900), 10th-highest for the average annual wage for middle school teachers ($73,480) and 11th-highest for the average annual wage for firefighters ($61,340). However, the state has a lower percentage of total union workers than the rest of the top 10, with only 10.93% of the workforce being union members.

Data and Methodology

To find the states with the strongest unions, SmartAsset compared all 50 states across the following seven metrics:

  • Percentage of workers who are union members. Data comes from UnionStats.com and is from 2021.
  • Four-year change in union membership. Data comes from UnionStats.com and is from 2017 and 2021.
  • Average annual wage for all occupations. Data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and is for 2021.
  • Average annual wage for middle school teachers. Data comes from the BLS and is for 2021. According to the BLS, among occupational groups, one of the highest unionization rates in 2021 was in education, training and library occupations. Middle school teacher is a prominent occupation within that industry. Workers in this job tend to make middle-range salaries for all occupations within the industry.
  • Salary ratio for teachers to all occupations. Data comes from the BLS and is for 2021.
  • Average annual wage for firefighters. Data comes from the BLS and is for 2021. According to the BLS, among occupational groups, one of the highest unionization rates in 2021 was in protective service occupations. Firefighters are a prominent occupation within that industry. Workers in this job tend to make middle-range salaries for all occupations within the industry.
  • Salary ratio for firefighters to all occupations. Data comes from the BLS and is for 2021.

First we ranked each state in each metric. We then found the average ranking for each state, giving a double weight to the two metrics regarding union membership – the percentage of workers in unions and four-year change in union membership – and a half weight to the four metrics regarding average annual wages and salary ratios for teachers and firefighters. We then used the average rankings to create our final rankings. The state with the best average ranking places first in our study while the state with the lowest average ranking places last.

Retirement Tips for Workers

  • Every worker, whether unionized or not, could benefit from working with a financial advisor. Preparing for retirement and other financial milestones is no small task. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors who serve your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • It’s always a good time to save for retirement. Pension plans can help cover your retirement costs, but you should still consider opening an individual retirement account (IRA) to help you maximize your potential retirement dollars.

Questions about our study? Contact press@smartasset.com.

Photo credit: ©iStock/PeopleImages

Jeff White Jeff is a Writer/Editor for SmartAsset. He's an expert in a variety of personal finance topics, such as investing, banking and retirement. Jeff has received his JD and MBA and has been featured in a number of publications, such as Investopedia, The Street, Forbes, Yahoo! Finance and more. He currently resides in Utah with his wife and five children, where they cheer for the Denver Broncos and make it to the water to sail whenever given the chance.
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