Utah has the third-lowest rate of labor union membership among states

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) In this file photo from June 24, 2016, about 90 Delta Air Lines pilots participate in a national picket to protest salaries at the Salt Lake City International Airport. Utah has one of the nation's lowest rates of union participation.

Utah has the third-lowest rate of labor union membership among the states, according to a new federal report.

Just 4.1 percent of Utah workers belonged to a union in 2018 — less than half the national average of 10.5 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The only states with lower rates than Utah are North Carolina and South Carolina, at 2.7 percent each. The states with the highest union membership rates are Hawaii at 23.1 percent and New York at 22.3 percent.

“A lot of that low rate here has to do with living in such a red Republican state,” said Utah AFL-CIO President Jeff Worthington. “Republicans have not historically been enchanted with unions” and have legislated accordingly.

For example, Worthington said, “Utah has been a ‘right to work’ state since 1955.” That means employees are entitled to work in unionized workplaces without actually joining the union or paying regular union dues, which weakens the union.

New data show that while 4.1 percent of Utah workers belong to unions, 5.7 percent are represented by unions — with many choosing not to join them formally.

Worthington said traditionally Democratic Utah unions have been changing political tactics and have been working across party lines as they seek legislation they believe will help working people. He said his own union now donates about half its contributions to Republicans as it seeks to expand its influence.

“Party affiliation doesn’t matter as much as how well a lawmaker acts on behalf of workers,” he said.

Analysis by The Salt Lake Tribune shows that labor unions donated about $109,000 to incoming members of the 2019 Legislature, and 71 percent of it went to Democrats — who are outnumbered there 82-22.

Low union membership is among reasons sometimes listed why Utah ranks usually ranks near the bottom nationally for per capita income. Large families also play a role.

The new data estimated that 56,000 Utahns belonged to unions in 2018, up a bit from 54,000 in 2017.