The State of the Unions 2016 Report co-authored by Ruth Milkman and Stephanie Luce, and the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies

September 6, 2016

September 6, 2016

Media Contact: Tanya Domi, 212-817-7283,

Study Shows New York City and State Lead
the Nation in Organized Labor;
$15 an Hour in City, State and Paid Family Leave Laws Boost Progress

Female union members slightly lead in NYS, while male members slightly lead U.S.

New York, Sept. 6, 2016 - Despite a decline in organized labor in the United States in recent years, New York City and New York State lead the nation in union density. Union power has been bolstered by the passage of two new laws supported by labor: one raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and the other creating a paid family leave program for private sector employees, according to a new study issued by the City University of New York.

The study, The State of the Unions 2016: A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State and the United States is co-authored by Professors Ruth Milkman and Stephanie Luce of the Graduate Center and the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies. The data analyzed in this report are from the U.S. Current Population Survey, jointly sponsored by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

"Organized labor is much stronger in New York City and State than in the nation as a whole," said Distinguished Professor Ruth Milkman of the Graduate Center, CUNY. "There has been a modest rebound in unionization rates in the City and State, buttressed by the passage of the increase in the minimum wage to $15 an hour and paid family leave. These are impressive achievements that will greatly enhance the well-being of New York's workers.

"In absolute terms, New York State has more union members - just under 2 million "than any other state except California, which has a far larger population," said Stephanie Luce, a co-author and professor of Labor Studies at the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education.

New York ranks first in union density among the nation's 50 states, with a unionization rate more than double the U.S. average of 10.9 percent in 2015-2016. There are currently about 901,000 union members residing the five boroughs of New York City, representing 45.3 percent of all union members in the State.

The report also provides a detailed analysis of the impact of New York State's 2016 minimum wage law with projections through 2020. The new law will disproportionately benefit female, African American, Latino, immigrant and young workers, all of whom are overrepresented at the bottom of the labor market.

Patterns of Unionization

The study determined the powerful effect by industry on the demographics of unionism, and also notes that men and women, as well as workers of various racial and ethnic origins, are unevenly distributed across industries. Women are concentrated in several highly unionized industries: education services, health care and social assistance, drug stores, department stores, hotels, child day care, finance, insurance and real estate. That yields a unionization rate for women in New York City and State that is slightly higher that of men. 

Immigrants and Unionization

Immigrant workers in New York are also highly unionized. Nationally, 9 percent of all foreign-born workers were unionized in 2015-16, compared to 11 percent of U.S.-born workers. In New York City, however, 25 percent of immigrant workers were union members, only one percentage point lower than the rate for U.S. born workers.

Both in the nation and in New York, moreover, immigrants who are naturalized citizens are more likely to be unionized than U.S. born workers. In New York City, 32 percent of naturalized citizens are unionized, compared to 26 percent of U.S.-born workers and 15 percent of non-citizen immigrants. Nationally, 13 percent of naturalized citizens are union members, but only 5 percent of non-citizens.

Among immigrants, unionization rates are highest for those who have lived in the U.S. longest. Nationally, 14 percent of those who arrived before 1980, and 12 percent of those who arrived in the 1980s are unionized, compared to only 6 percent of those who arrived in or after 2000.

In striking contrast to the national pattern, private-sector union density in New York City and State has grown in the past few years. However, over the past several decades, the ratio of public- to private-sector unionization has soared, according to the authors. Nationally and locally, this is a period of profound challenges for organized labor. Yet in New York the recent increases in unionization rates, along with the new labor laws passed this year, offer a basis for cautious optimism.

For a copy of the report visit:

About the Graduate Center, CUNY
The Graduate Center (GC) is the focal point for advanced teaching and research at the City University of New York (CUNY), the nation's largest urban public university. Devoted exclusively to graduate education, the GC fosters pioneering research and scholarship in the arts and sciences, and trains students for careers in universities and the private, nonprofit, and government sectors. With over 35 doctoral and master's programs of the highest caliber, and 20 research centers, institutes, and initiatives, the GC benefits from highly ambitious and diverse students and alumni - who in turn teach hundreds of thousands of undergraduates every year. Through its public programs, the GC enhances New York City's intellectual and cultural life. Visit to learn more.