Union Membership Drops to Record Low

January 19, 2023

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released data Thursday showing union membership in the U.S. had dropped to a record low of just 10.1% in 2022.

That was down from 10.3% in 2021 despite a wave of organizing efforts across the country. It’s because, while the number of union workers increased by 273,000 last year, they only accounted for a small fraction of the 5.3 million jobs added to employment rolls.

“This disproportionately large increase in the number of total wage and salary employment compared with the increase in the number of union members led to a decrease in the union membership rate,” the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated in a news release.

Union membership has been steadily falling since the mid-1950s, when one in three workers was a union member. In 1983, roughly 20% of the total workforce was unionized. 

The downward trend continued last year even as workers at AmazonStarbucksApple and other big companies voted to unionize for the first time, despite opposition from their employers.

The number of union petitions rose 53% from 2021 to 2022, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), while the number of employee strikes also rose dramatically. Workers have been protesting wages that haven’t kept up with inflation, long hours and difficult work conditions. 

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in a statement last year that historically low union membership in the country “leaves much to be desired for organized labor leaders, to say the least” and urged union leaders to “think of ways to improve their product” other than pushing for legal changes that make it easier for workers to join unions.

However, President Biden, the self-proclaimed “most-union President” in U.S. history, has taken steps to support unions, including inviting the new leaders of at Amazon and Starbucks unions to the White House and installing a workers’ advocate to run the NLRB.

However, the White House found itself in an awkward position with the railroad workers’ unions in November after forcing a deal that thousands of union members had rejected in part over what they saw as inadequate sick leave policies.

Despite the decreasing union numbers, labor historians say there’s been a major shift underway, propelled by the Covid pandemic, in how Americans view unions. This past August, more Americans said they approved of unions than at any point since 1965: some 71% of those polled, according to Gallup.

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