Arizona's low union membership rate takes another dive
Arizona was one of the least unionized states in the country last year, and its union numbers are on the decline.
Why it matters: Even among right-to-work states, Arizona stands out for low unionization. Jim McLaughlin, president of the UFCW Local 99, tells Axios it's a result of the state's reliance on service economy industries with low union membership.
State of play: Only 4.2% of Arizona workers were union members in 2023, according to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- That's a sharp drop from 5.5% in 2022.
- The state's rate hit a 21st-century low of 4% in 2017, after peaking at 8.8% in 2007-2008.
The big picture: Arizona has the fifth-lowest rate of union membership in the country, behind South Carolina (2.3%), North Carolina (2.7%), South Dakota (3.6%) and Utah (4.1%). Hawaii led the nation at 24.1%.
- The state is also well below the U.S. average of 10%, which is a new national low.
Context: Arizona is one of 26 states with right-to-work laws that prohibit mandatory union membership.
- Voters approved a right-to-work amendment to the state constitution in 1946.
The intrigue: Advocates say unions are a needed proponent of worker rights and compensation, while critics accuse them of throttling economic growth.
- Arizona Chamber of Commerce lobbyist Courtney Coolidge told Chamber Business News last month that right-to-work laws have been a major contributor to the state's economic growth.
Reality check: McLaughlin said he was surprised by the federal figures because he saw an uptick in organized labor activity in Arizona last year, at least in the private sector.
- Unions here were organizing new industries, such as cannabis, as well as new units within existing industries and employers, he said.
- He noted that there's been more union activity among airport employees such as cabin cleaners.
- Plus: A Gilbert Starbucks became the seventh of the coffee giant's stores in Arizona to unionize last year.
Zoom out: It's an annual exercise in the Legislature for Democrats to propose bills to repeal the state's right-to-work laws and constitutional provisions, but they never advance through the Republican-controlled chambers.
- Bills to repeal both the constitutional and statutory laws have been introduced this session.
What we're watching: Republicans have controlled the Legislature for about 50 years, but if Democrats achieve their elusive goal of taking the majority in November, they'll likely prioritize right-to-work reforms.
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