Home » Unions May Be Winning Strikes But They’re Struggling To Add Members

Unions May Be Winning Strikes But They’re Struggling To Add Members

U.S. unions managed to add thousands of members last year amid a wave of U.S. labor activism, but their footprint shrank slightly as an overall share of the workforce.

The number of workers belonging to a union increased by 139,000 to a total of roughly 14.4 million, according to in the number of union election petitions over the past two years. Workers at previously non-union companies like Starbucks, Trader Joe’s and REI have been part of a burst of grassroots organizing, particularly among the young. But the number of election petitions remains low by historical standards.

“Even though unions managed to add to the raw number of members last year, they could not keep pace with the growth of non-union jobs in the economy.”

The overall figures underscore the long-term challenges facing the labor movement amid a decades-long decline. Workers have notched encouraging victories lately, including successful strikes by auto workers, actors, writers and nurses last year. But adding new members in significant numbers remains difficult, with many U.S. employers hostile to the very idea of collective bargaining.

Unions have been pushing the Biden administration and Congress to make it easier to organize, particularly through a bill known as the Protecting the Right to Organize Act. The legislation would make it easier to form unions and secure first contracts, but it stands virtually no chance of going anywhere while Republicans control the House and moderate Democrats in the Senate oppose certain measures.

Mary Kay Henry, the president of the 2 million-member Service Employees International Union, noted in a statement on the membership data that unions are more popular with the general public now than they have been in decades.

“The latest union density numbers are further proof that despite union popularity and organizing skyrocketing, the rules are still rigged against workers and it’s way too hard to win a voice on the job,” she said.


January 2024