Study Shows New York City and State Continue to Lead the Nation in Organized Labor

Press Release

Media contact:
Tanya Domi, 212-827-7283,

Study Shows New York City and State Continue to Lead the Nation in Organized Labor, but a U.S. Supreme Court Case Threatens to Drastically Reduce Public-Sector Unions Power and Financial Security

NEW YORK, (Aug. 29, 2017) – Unionization rates in New York City and State continued to rebound from their post-Great Recession lows and outpaced the rest of the nation in 2016 and the first half of 2017, according to an annual report out today. But the expected outcome of an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case could dramatically weaken public-sector unions across the nation — including those in New York.
The findings are detailed in State of the Unions 2017, A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State, and the United States.
According to the report, approximately 24 percent of New York City and New York state workers were union members in 2016-17, a unionization rate in both jurisdictions that is more than double the national average of 10.7 percent. While these regional data reflect the historic strength of New York unions, they don’t capture the likely impact of two recent developments: the 2016 presidential election and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to hear Janus v. AFSCME, a case brought by a small group of employees against an Illinois public-sector union and litigated with the support of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation and the conservative Liberty Justice Center.
“Janus seeks to eliminate public-sector unions’ ability to collect ‘fair share’ or ‘agency’ fees from non-members who receive the same wages, benefits, and other protections negotiated by unions on behalf of their members,” said report co-author Ruth Milkman, distinguished professor of sociology at the Graduate Center, CUNY, and research director at CUNY’s Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies — the institute that issues the annual report. “This case is a deliberate attack on public-sector unions, and with the recent appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs are very likely to win. A decision in their favor would hurt unions financially, weaken their ability to bargain with employers, and ultimately do great harm to workers in New York and across the nation.”
Data featured in the report highlight vulnerabilities of New York’s public sector unions, whose treasuries stand to lose vast sums of dues money immediately if agency fees are banned. Agency fees are just the tip of the iceberg, however. Over time, the losses will grow as existing union members learn that they can continue to benefit from union protections without paying any dues. 
Table B1.  Agency Fee Payers and Total Membership, Selected New York City Unions, 2016.

Union Name Public-Sector Membership Agency-Fee Payers Fee-Payers as % of Public-Sector Membership
United Federation of Teachers 120,881 5,751 4.8%
AFSCME District Council 37 98,505 19,440 16.5%
Transport Workers Union Local 100 42,158 4,924 11.7%
Professional Staff Congress - CUNY 20,034 3,652 13.8%
Communications Workers Local 1180   7,532 1,225 9.2%
Organization of Staff Analysts   3,600 1,200 43.2%
New York State Nurses Association* 10,500 842 8.0%
Civil Service Employees Association (AFSCME Local 100) 14,000 2,300 16.4%

*The figures shown are for New York state.
The report also flags other looming threats to unions and workers in New York and nationally. President Donald Trump’s recent and upcoming appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the main government agency that resolves disputes between unions and employers in the private sector, poses another danger. Trump has already appointed two anti-union members to the board and will have the opportunity to appoint a third in December; at that point Trump appointees will hold a majority of the board seats and will then move to reverse many decisions made during the eight years of the Obama administration.
“New York City and New York state remain some of the best places to work because union membership is relatively high. Strong unions are good for all workers and the economy,” said coauthor Stephanie Luce, professor of labor studies at the Murphy Institute and the Graduate Center, CUNY. “This is a precarious moment, as attacks on worker and union rights escalate, the situation for many New Yorkers could be much worse in just a few years."  
The report also provides an in-depth look at the geographic, demographic, and occupational makeup of unions in New York City, New York state, and nationally.
Media note: To request an interview with Professor Ruth Milkman or Professor Stephanie Luce, contact Tanya Domi,, 212-817-7283, mobile 917-733-7838.

About the Graduate Center, CUNY 
The Graduate Center (GC) is the principal doctorate-granting institution of the City University of New York (CUNY). Positioned at the center of the largest urban public university in America, the GC fosters pioneering research and scholarship in the arts and sciences, and trains graduate students for careers in universities and the private, nonprofit, and government sectors. Unlike typical research-intensive universities, the Graduate Center focus exclusively on graduate education, with over 35 doctoral and master’s programs, and 20 research centers, institutes and initiatives. Every year, GC students teach over 200,000 CUNY undergraduates, with another 150,000 undergraduates taught by GC alumni in virtually every college and university across the city. Through its public programs, the Graduate Center enhances the city’s intellectual and cultural life. Visit to learn more.


Submitted on: AUG 29, 2017

Category: Press Room | Sociology