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Bucking the National Trend: Unions in Washington and Two Other West Coast States Gained Members and Market Share in 2018

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Unions in Washington State increased their membership by 100,000 in 2018 and unions' market share of the state labor force rose by 1 percent to 19.8 percent, the third highest percentage of any state in the country. Oregon lost 10,000 union members in 2018, as the union market share of the labor force there dipped to 13.9 percent. The overall national rate of unionization fell to 10.5 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Unions in three of the five West Coast states gained members and market share in 2018: Hawaii, Alaska, and Washington. Union membership in all five West Coast states exceeded the national rate of 10.5 percent in 2018. Total union membership in the country held steady at 14.7 million out of 140 million employed workers in 2018. Almost one out of every four union members in the United States works in one of the five West Coast states, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Annual Report for 2018 (the "BLS Annual Report").

In 2018, Hawaii replaced New York with the most unionized workforce in the country at 23.1 percent, adding 10,000 union members. California's 2.4 million union members remained the largest unionized workforce among the 50 states, 14.7 percent of its labor force, according to the BLS Annual Report.

At the national level, unions continue to lose members and market share, particularly in the private sector. The percentage of workers who are in unions dropped from 10.7 percent in 2017 to 10.5 percent in 2018, according to the BLS Annual Report. Although 2 million more workers held jobs in 2018 than in 2017, the number of union members in the country declined slightly from 14.8 million to 14.7 million in 2018. Union member losses were predominantly in the private sector. Only 6.4 percent of the private sector workforce is composed of union members. One of every three public employees belongs to a union.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision last year restricting the mandatory deduction of dues from nonunion public employee paychecks, Janus v. AFSCME, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018), does not appear to have had a negative impact on union representation in the public sector. The Supreme Court held in Janus that the mandatory deduction of union dues from the paychecks of public employees who are not union members is unconstitutional. Changes in union membership, however, tend to develop over years or decades, not months. Union membership in the United States has steadily declined over the last 60 years. In the 1950s, almost half of American workers were represented by unions. Now, one in ten workers belong to a union.

Takeaway: Non-Union Employers Should Review Policies to Control the Workplace and Limit Third-Party Access.

Union expansion and success in organizing workers on the West Coast increase the pressure on nonunion employers in Washington and Oregon to update workplace policies designed to protect employers from disruption by third-party solicitors, including union organizers.

Nonunion employers may want to review and revise their policies and procedures regarding third-party access to their workplace and to their employees through employer-owned e-mail and other more traditional employer-owned means of communication, such as bulletin boards and mailboxes. Under recent rulings by the Republican majority on the National Labor Relations Board and through pending cases, employers can again adopt nondiscriminatory policies and procedures imposing reasonable restrictions on third-party access to workplaces in the private sector. Through a pending case against Caesar's Entertainment Corp., the NLRB may soon restore employer rights to restrict employer-provided electronic messaging to messages that relate directly to the employer's business. The Democratic majority on the NLRB in 2014 had held that employers must open up company e-mail systems to employees' union organizing messages.