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NYS unions lost 140,000 members in 2019, data show

Construction at the site of the Ronkonkoma Hub

Construction at the site of the Ronkonkoma Hub in April. Local labor experts and union activists said there are about 250,000 union members in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Credit: Barry Sloan

Unions in New York State lost 140,000 members last year, the second decline in as many years, new federal data show.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported on Wednesday the ranks of private-sector and government-worker unions in the state totaled 1.73 million in 2019, down 7.5% from a year earlier.

The bureau did not release data for Long Island and the state’s other nine regions. However, local labor experts and union activists said there are about 250,000 union members in Nassau and Suffolk counties.

The statewide drop in union membership between 2018 and last year coincided with a decline of 1.8% in the number of people employed, from 8.40 million to 8.25 million.

Bureau regional economist Bruce Bergman said a number of factors are behind the declines. For one thing, "these figures are for wage-and-salary employees and don't include the number of people who are self-employed, which is a growing area of the economy," he said.

Union membership in New York has fluctuated a lot since 2013.

Last year’s decline followed a 145,000-member drop in 2018 and an increase of 75,000 in 2017. Union membership dropped by 96,000 in 2016, increased by 58,000 in 2015, dropped by 6,000 in 2014 and increased by 145,000 in 2013.

New York was the second-most unionized state in the country last year, after Hawaii.

In New York, 21% of workers belong to unions, compared with 23.5% in Hawaii. In both states, the largest concentration is in government.

The least unionized state was South Carolina, where only 2.2% of workers are union members.

Mario Cilento, president of the state AFL-CIO, an umbrella group of unions, said it's difficult to sign up new members because of employers' opposition.

"Corporations continue to ramp up efforts to block union organizing, which is why we need crucial reforms at the national level to protect working men and women and their right to form unions," he said, adding public opinion polls show support for organized labor at a 50-year high of 64%.

The labor statistics bureau reported that an additional 145,000 New Yorkers who are not union members are still represented by unions in the workplace.

Nationwide, the bureau found the annual earnings of union members in 2018 were $10,556 higher, on average, than the earnings of nonunion workers.

Union members accounted for 10.3% of all workers in the country last year, the lowest rate since this set of records began in 1983.

The data comes from a monthly survey of 60,000 households about employment status and earnings of people age 16 and over, called the Current Population Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau.

New York State union membership

2010: 1.96 million (24.2% of all workers)

2019: 1.73 million (21% of all workers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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