Vice President, Labor Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
January 23, 2023
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on January 19 released its annual union membership report for 2022. This year’s report showed that despite growing in absolute terms, union membership as a percentage of the workforce declined by two-tenths of a point from 10.3% to 10.1%, the lowest percentage on record. The 2022 numbers illustrate a continued decline from 2021, when the union membership rate dropped from 10.8% to 10.3% of the workforce, notwithstanding the “most pro-union” President ever.
According to the BLS, the number of wage and salary workers that belong to a union increased by 273,000 to 14.3 million, which amounts to a 1.9% increase from 2021. At the same time, the overall workforce grew by 5.3 million, or 3.9%. Most of those additional workers were not members of a union, however, which accounts for the drop in the membership rate. Nevertheless, union executives might find some solace in the addition of nearly 300,000 new members after shedding almost a half-million in just the last few years.
As has been the case for some time, the union membership rate among government workers (33.1%) dwarfed that of the private sector (6%), although in contrast to last year, the private sector had more employees as union members than the public sector (7.2 million vs. 7.1 million).
More important, perhaps, is the fact that the 6% union membership rate in the private sector is also the lowest it has ever been, its previous low having been in 2021, when it was 6.1%. Prior to that, the lowest level was in 2019, when the private sector had a union membership rate of 6.3%. That’s not an ideal trendline for labor leaders, who have eagerly sought to reverse it for years.
It is anyone’s guess what might happen in 2024, but either way the latest BLS report arrived almost precisely at the halfway point for the current administration. That administration has taken an “all of government” approach to foisting unionization on workers at the behest of those same labor leaders, apparently to little avail. After lavishing almost $2 billion of their members’ dues to get their political allies elected in 2020, one might be forgiven for thinking that they expected a better return on their “investment.” Then again, perhaps the product they are pushing just isn’t that attractive. After all, money can’t buy everything.