Earlier this year, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics released its latest statistics for union membership and the news was not good for America’s labor unions.
In 2021, the number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions continued to decline (-241,000) to 14 million, and the percent of the workforce who were union members was just 10.3%.
When you separate out the public employee union membership, it turns out that only 6.1% of the private sector workforce belongs to unions. The percentage of government union workers is five times more than those in the private sector.
Compare membership levels to the 1950s when total union membership in the United States exceeded 30%, including government employees.
The Biden administration is doing all it can to give a boost to union efforts, including presidential executive orders compelling federal agencies to take sides with unions over management.
Last year, President Biden also created a cabinet-level labor task force charged with brainstorming ideas to administratively impose the goals of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO Act), a bill passed by the House but stalled in the Senate.
The task force’s 46-page report is a grab bag of proposals. Some are unobjectionable like supporting expanded apprenticeship programs. Others would lend the full backing of the administration to support proposals hatched during the Obama years to make it easier for unions to organize workplaces and harder for employers to oppose them.
One challenge for unions is the changing nature of work, a trend that has been accelerated by the Coronavirus. It’s not easy to organize people who are working from home, or gig workers who, due to the nature of their professional pursuits, don’t think of themselves as the natural allies of other workers. To make matters worse, increasing automation has ended many of the kinds of jobs that unions used to target for organizing.