Relationship between states’ political leanings and public-sector union membership numbers

Using Bureau of Labor Statistics data, researchers Barry Hirsch and David Macpherson disaggregate annual union membership numbers by state, industry and sector to give us a better understanding of unionization trends. The most recent comparison is from 2018 to 2019, which shows the one-year aftermath following the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Janus v. AFSCME that freed all public employees from being forced to financially support a union in order to keep their job.

In Minnesota, the percentage of public employees who were union members in 2019 was at 53.7 percent, down from 59.3 percent in 2018. Even with this decline, Minnesota’s public-sector unionization percentage remains high compared to other states and the nation, according to a ranking by Mike Antonucci. But what is even more interesting about this ranking is the relationship between states’ public-sector unionization percentages and the political party that holds the majority in each state’s legislature. (Given that Minnesota is the only state legislature split between two parties, it was awarded to the Democrats based on the House majority and Democratic governor.)

The states with the higher percentages of public-sector union members are overwhelmingly Democratic, and those with the lower percentages are overwhelmingly Republican.

There is even an obvious dividing line. Of the 22 states with the highest percentages of public employee union members, 17 have legislatures controlled by Democrats. Of the 28 states and D.C. with the lowest percentages of public employee union members, 25 have legislatures controlled by Republicans.

Regardless of whether the cause and effect is public employee unions being instrumental in creating Democratic legislative majorities or Democratic legislative majorities being instrumental in boosting union membership—or both at the same time—the relationship between the two isn’t in dispute, Antonucci continues.

…[W]e should all ask why state governments’ relationships with their own employees determines [sic] party composition and the direction of public policy.