Union Membership in 2017: Mixed Results

Jan 22, 2018 - 3:00pm

Executive Director, Workforce Freedom Initiative

The Bureau of Labor Statistics on January 19 released its annual estimate of union membership in the United States.  This year’s report showed that union membership remained at 10.7 percent of the total workforce in 2017, which pauses a steady, six-decade decline in membership but still represents the lowest union membership rate since the mid-1930s.  Despite the flat membership rate, the total number of union members rose slightly to 14.8 million, an increase of around 262,000.

Union membership in the private sector increased from 6.4 percent to 6.5 percent while public sector unionization remained over five times higher at 34.4 percent.  In addition to overall membership, 1.6 million workers were represented under union contracts but were not union members, which was up approximately 173,000 from 2016.  That cohort of union-represented non-members still represented a slightly lower percentage of those employed, declining from 12 percent to 11.9 percent.  

The union membership rate is at its lowest level since 1936, when it stood at 9 percent. Moreover, as the graph above illustrates, organized labor's presence in the workforce has steadily declined since its apogee of 35 percent in 1955. 

Given those numbers, union leaders might consider holding steady a win.  But after eight years of sympathetic allies on the National Labor Relations Board and having pumped tens of millions of dollars into so-called worker centers to recruit new members, it’s probably safe to say that more was expected. 

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About the Author

Executive Director, Workforce Freedom Initiative