Feb 13, 2024 - News

Arizona's low union membership rate takes another dive

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Note: Values are not seasonally adjusted; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Note: Values are not seasonally adjusted; Chart: Axios Visuals

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%.

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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