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.