Vice President, Labor Policy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
January 26, 2024
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) on January 23 released its annual union membership report for 2023. This year’s report showed that despite growing slightly in absolute terms, union membership as a percentage of the workforce declined by one-tenth of a point from 10.1% to 10%, the lowest percentage on record.
The 2023 numbers illustrate a further, albeit minor, decline from 2022, when the union membership rate dropped from 10.3% to 10.1% of the workforce, notwithstanding the “most pro-union” occupant of the White House ever.
According to the BLS, the number of wage and salary workers that belong to a union rose modestly from 14.3 million in 2022 to 14.4 million. In particular, the number of union workers employed in the private sector in 2023 increased by 191,000 to 7.4 million, while the unionization rate in that sector was unchanged at 6.0%. In other words, given the growth of the overall workforce by 2.7 million workers, the increase in new union members in the private sector was statistically insignificant.
As has been the case for many years, the union membership rate among government workers (32.5%) dwarfed that of the private sector. However, as was also true last year, the private sector had more employees as union members than the public sector (7.4 million vs. 7.0 million). More important, perhaps, is the fact that the number of government public sector union members dropped by a tenth of a percentage point, meaning the overall net growth of union membership was in the private sector.
It is also worth underscoring that the 6% union membership rate in the private sector remains the lowest it has ever been. While there may be some solace for labor leaders with the addition of 191,000 new private sector members, a static membership rate is not the best news. Given the concerted “whole of government” approach the current administration has taken to facilitate union membership, it seems their efforts to foist unionization on workers haven’t paid off.
With perhaps only one more year left in the Biden administration—what will happen is anyone’s guess at this point—there’s not much time left for it to continue tilting the field for organized labor. After lavishing almost $2 billion of their members’ dues to get their political allies elected in 2020, one must wonder if labor leaders will find another similar “investment” worth the expense.