CUNY Labor Report Indicates Union Strength in New York City and New York State Leads the Nation; Vast Majority of Union Workers are Black, Latino, and Women


Media contact: Tanya Domi,, 212-817-7283
CUNY Labor Report Indicates Union Strength in New York City and New York State Leads the Nation; Vast Majority of Union Workers are Black, Latino, and Women

NEW YORK, Sept. 3, 2013 — A study issued today by CUNY labor scholars shows that unionization in New York City and New York State is far higher than in the nation as a whole, in both the public and private sectors.

“Although significant erosion has occurred in recent years,” said Ruth Milkman, professor of sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY and Academic Director of Labor Studies at the Murphy Institute, who co-authored the study, “relative to the nation as a whole, organized labor remains strong in New York City and State.”

Among the report’s most interesting findings is the distinctive profile of New York City's union members, who are more likely to be Black, Latino, or female than is the case elsewhere in the nation. Although the popular stereotype of a union member is a white male wearing a hardhat, in the city only 18 percent of all union members are white men (see Figure D1).  Fully 60 percent of union members in New York City are Black or Latino, much higher than in the rest of New York State, where the figure is only 16 percent, and also in contrast to the nation as a whole, where it is 27 percent.

According to the report, State of the Unions 2013: A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State and the United States, 22.4 percent of all New York City workers are unionized, a higher proportion than in any other large U.S. city. Similarly, New York State ranks first among all 50 states, with a unionization rate of 23.7 percent, more than double the national average of 11.3 percent.  

The report is based on analysis of U.S. Current Population Survey (CPS) data for calendar year 2012 and the first six months of 2013. It documents the sharp decline in numbers and influence of organized labor in the United States over the past decade. At the national and state levels and, to a certain extent, in New York City as well, losses in union membership have been disproportionately concentrated in the private sector during this period.  

However, as coauthor Stephanie Luce, professor of labor studies at CUNY’s Murphy Institute, pointed out, “Despite the steep decline in private-sector unionism in New York City, we are now witnessing new organizing efforts in low-wage industries like car washes and fast food restaurants.”

The report also notes that in the face of a persistently anemic recovery from the Great Recession, chronic unemployment remains a reality for many union workers, who have also faced unprecedented attacks from employers in recent years. In New York City, nearly all public-sector union members are working under expired contracts and thus have been unable to improve their wages and benefits.

Across New York City and State, however, union density is much higher in the public than in the private sector. In the Albany-Schenectady-Troy metropolitan area, public sector density is 78 percent higher than anywhere else in the state; overall union density is highest there as well, at 38 percent, due largely to the high concentration of public sector jobs near the state capital. The report also includes data on the Buffalo–Niagara Falls metro, with overall union density of 22 percent and 74 percent in the public sector.  The Rochester metropolitan area has lower density, however; 15 percent overall and 64 percent in the private sector.

To request an interview with Professors Milkman or Luce, please contact Tanya Domi,, 212-817-7283.

About the Graduate Center
The Graduate Center’s (GC) mission is to prepare the next generation of scholars for careers in the academy, cultural institutions and public service, to carry out advanced research and scholarship, and to increase public understanding of pressing matters of local and global significance. Approximately 4,500 students are enrolled in forty doctoral and masters programs, sustained by a wide range of financial support. Recognized for its scholarly leadership across the humanities, sciences and social sciences, the GC is also a platform for influential public intellectuals, who, through the GC’s public programs, inform and enliven debate, and enrich the cultural life of New York City.   

About the Murphy Institute
The Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies offers higher education programs for working adults and union members, and serves as a resource center for to labor, academic, and community leaders seeking a deeper understanding of labor and urban issues.

About the Center for Urban Research
The Center for Urban Research works with faculty and graduate students to organize basic research on the critical issues facing New York and other large cities in the U.S. and abroad, collaborates on applied research and information dissemination with public agencies, nonprofit organizations, foundations, the media, and other partners, and holds forums and workshops on urban research undertaken at the Graduate Center, The City University of New York.

Submitted on: SEP 3, 2013

Category: Center for Urban Research | Press Room | Sociology