Workers launched a number of high-profile union drives in 2022, including at nationwide chains Amazon and Starbucks. This was reported by the National Labor Relations Board, the federal agency that oversees union elections 53 percent increase in applications filed during the financial year.
Union officials pointed to union-busting efforts — not worker disinterest — as the reason for the decline. The Democratic bill was passed in the last session of the House of Representatives Organizational Protection Actit would have reformed labor laws to make it easier for workers to join unions, but the legislation later stalled in the Senate.
“In 2022, we’ve seen working people rise up despite the often illegal resistance of companies that would rather pay union-busting firms millions than give workers a seat at the table,” said AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. “The wave of organizing will continue to gather steam in 2023 and beyond, despite broken labor laws that are rigging the system against workers.”
Opponents of the union, however, cited the numbers as evidence of the shrinking ranks of organized labor.
“The BLS numbers are a reminder that headlines from cheerleader reporters and influence in the halls of power in DC are no substitute for actual support among hard-working, ordinary American workers,” said Patrick Semmens, vice president of the National Right to Work Foundation.
“Union officials artificially increase their influence in a way that no private organization can, but do so by forcing workers under ‘representation’ they oppose, and by trampling on the rights of the workers they claim to speak for who want to force workers to pay or be fired. The union For a thinking worker, that’s not a winning message,” Semmens said.
On average, unionized workers earn higher wages than their non-unionized counterparts. According to the BLS, the average weekly earnings of non-union workers was 85 percent of that of union workers in 2022 — though the agency noted that this statistic did not control for other factors that could explain the gap.
Some trends remained unchanged: The union membership rate of public sector workers was still five times that of private sector workers, at 33.1 percent and 6 percent, respectively. The membership rate of men (10.5 percent) continued to be higher than that of women (9.6 percent). Black workers remained more likely to be union members than White, Asian, or Hispanic workers.
The BLS report also broke down union membership rates by occupation. The highest union membership rates were among workers in protective service occupations such as firefighters (34.6 percent), as well as in education, training, and library occupations (33.7 percent). Workers in insurance fields; finance; professional and technical services; and in food service and beverage establishments, the union membership rate was close to 1 percent.
As for states, Hawaii and New York had the highest union membership rates at 21.9 percent and 20.7 percent, respectively. South Carolina and North Carolina had the lowest rates at 1.7 percent and 2.8 percent, respectively.
Both of the latter are so-called right-to-work states, where laws allow workers to opt out of union membership even if their larger workplace is represented by a union. About 1.7 million workers are covered by union contracts despite not paying dues, the BLS reported Thursday.
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