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Union Membership Rates Continue to Decline

By almost every measure, union membership rates continued its steady decline in 2019, according to the latest statistics on unionization rates in the United States from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The overall union membership rate in 2019 was 10.3%, down by 0.2% from 2018. The total number of unionized workers in 2019 was 14.57 million, down from 14.74 million in 2018. Including non-members, 11.6 million people were represented by a union in 2019, down from 11.7 million in 2018.

Unions’ loss in membership was reflected over most demographics. Union membership among men declined by 0.3%, from 11.1% in 2018 to 10.8% in 2019. Among women, the union membership declined by 0.2%, from 9.9% to 9.7%. The BLS reported that union membership rates among Black, Hispanic, and Caucasian workers all dropped. Indeed, the union membership rate decrease was highest for Black workers at 1.3%, down from 12.5% in 2018 to 11.2% in 2019. In fact, in the racial and ethnic categories, BLS reported only an increase among Asian workers, from 8.4% on 2018 to 8.8% in 2019.

Union membership rates also dropped by occupation and industry. BLS reported that between 2018 and 2019, union membership declined in management and professional service, sales and office, and production, transportation, and material moving, among other occupations. Industries including agriculture, mining, construction, manufacturing, wholesale and retail, financial services, professional and business, education and health, and public sector all had reduced union membership rates between 2018 and 2019.

In its press release reacting to the BLS report, the AFL-CIO blamed “barriers” faced by workers seeking to join a union, such as the Republican-majority National Labor Relations Board, for the declines. The AFL-CIO also pointed to what it viewed as bargaining successes after strikes by auto workers in Detroit, teachers in Chicago, and communication workers in Southeastern states. The AFL-CIO also touted high public approval rates for unions and claimed to “gain momentum” in unorganized workplaces in the hospitality, electric bus manufacturing, technology, video games, and media industries.

Despite the BLS report, employers in all industries should remain vigilant for union organizing efforts, especially in non-traditional industries, such as technology. Judging by the AFL-CIO’s reactions to the BLS report, unions also may employ strikes, picketing, and other collective actions to increase their relevance in workplaces.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020National Law Review, Volume X, Number 31


About this Author

Thomas P. McDonough Principal New York Metro Labor and Preventive Practices

Thomas P. McDonough is a Principal in the White Plains, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He counsels employers on a wide range of labor and employment law issues.

Mr. McDonough regularly negotiates collective bargaining agreements for public and private sector employers. He also provides ongoing advice to clients on contract interpretation and represents them in grievance arbitration proceedings. Mr. McDonough practices extensively before the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, New York’s Public Employment...

Howard Bloom, Jackson Lewis, labor union attorney, unfair practice investigations lawyer, employment legal counsel, bargaining law

Howard M. Bloom is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has practiced labor and employment law representing exclusively employers for more than 36 years.

Mr. Bloom counsels clients in a variety of industries on labor law issues. He trains and advises executives, managers and supervisors on union awareness and positive employee relations, and assists employers in connection with union card-signing efforts, traditional union representation and corporate campaigns, and union decertification campaigns. He also represents clients at the National Labor Relations Board in connection with bargaining unit issues, objections and challenges, as well as unfair labor practice investigations and trials. Mr. Bloom also has been the spokesperson at countless first and successor contract collective bargaining negotiations, and regularly advises on collective bargaining agreement administration issues, including grievance/arbitration issues.

Mr. Bloom has appeared before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, several U.S. District Courts, the National Labor Relations Board, the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

Richard F. Vitarelli Principal Jackson Lewis

Richard F. Vitarelli is a Principal in the Hartford, Connecticut, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. Part of the firm’s national labor practice, he has over two decades of experience representing employers nationally in strategic labor relations, collective bargaining, and union organizing, including in the context of mergers and acquisitions, corporate restructuring and contract administration. He serves as general labor and employment counsel for employers and multi-employer associations in various industries, including construction, manufacturing, health care and senior living,...