Number of workers in unions down again in 2021

In 2021, high-profile union drives like these at Amazon and Starbucks, and headline-grabbing employee strikes at firms like John Deere and Kellogg’s  (and throughout healthcare institutions) dominated information protection of the 12 months in labor. However total, union membership continued to say no, in keeping with the most recent numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics .

It’s a actuality that appears disconnected from these outstanding examples of union exercise and from polls that present excessive union favorability amongst workers throughout the nation—a disconnect that may be defined by the nation’s “weak, outdated labor legal guidelines,” and which factors to the necessity for brand spanking new labor insurance policies, says Heidi Shierholz, president of the nonprofit suppose tank Financial Coverage Institute, who beforehand labored because the chief economist on the Division of Labor below the Obama administration.

“Workers need and worth unions, and the truth that unionization nonetheless declined in 2021 is only a evident testomony to how straightforward it’s for employers who oppose unionization to use our weak outdated labor legal guidelines to thwart workers’ makes an attempt to unionize,” she mentioned on a press name going over an EPI report on the labor bureau numbers. “It’s a testomony to how damaged U.S. labor legislation actually is.”


In 2021, 15.8 million workers in the U.S. had been represented by a union, a decline of about 581,000 individuals from 2019. In 1979, the share of U.S. workers represented by unions was 27%. If that was nonetheless the speed at this time, there can be almost 37 million unionized workers. In 2021, the speed of unionized workers was 11.6%.

When evaluating the pubic to non-public sector, there’s a stark distinction in union illustration: the unionization charge in the general public sector was 37.6% in 2021, and in the personal sector, 7%. That charge is down from 12.1% in 2020, however that 12 months, the pandemic had a wierd impact on unionization charges, which jumped up from 11.6% to 12.1% in 2020 largely as a result of the share of jobs misplaced in 2020 had been predominantly in industries that aren’t unionized, like leisure and hospitality. That job loss successfully raised the general share of unionized workers with out including unionized employee. That impact is now beginning to reverse, as extra jobs in areas additionally prone to be non-union got here again in 2021, reducing the general unionization charge.

Total, there’s nonetheless a decline in the full quantity of workers in unions, which dropped in 2021 by 137,000, on high of a decline of 444,000 in 2020. Between 2019 and 2021, the quantity of U.S. workers in unions dropped by 581,000.

“One key factor to essentially control is the truth that we’re nonetheless in the center of this restoration. That trampoline impact will not be over. We nonetheless have quite a bit of leisure and hospitality jobs to regain,” Shierholz says. She expects many of these jobs to be regained in 2022, which may decrease the general unionization charge much more.

Unions are only one approach workers can have extra energy as regards to their employer. The opposite is that they’ll threaten to give up their job and discover one other. The latter has develop into particularly sturdy through the pandemic, with tales from the “nice resignation,” and a excessive demand for workers through the American Rescue Act whereas fewer workers can be found, out of the workforce as a result of well being and security considerations or points, or as a result of they should present care to others as a result of of COVID-19.

However the energy dynamic that comes with the menace of quitting probably gained’t final post-pandemic, Shierholz says. “For lasting employee energy, for lasting sturdy wage progress and respectable working situations going ahead, working individuals completely have to have the ability to be a part of unions,” she says.