Unionization increased by 200,000 and More Wanted to Join

In the Private Sector? The Protecting the Right to Organize Act is a historic proposal restoring fairness to the economy by strengthening the federal laws protecting workers’ right to unionize and bargain for higher wages and better benefits.

In the Public Sector? There is no federal law protecting the freedom of state and local public service workers to join a union and collectively bargain. Numerous states have passed free rider so-called “right-to-work” laws forcing unions to advocate on behalf of public service workers who haven’t paid their fair share for those services.

During the Pandemic . . .

Unionization increased by 200,000 in 2022: Tens of millions more wanted to join a union, but couldn’t, epi.org, Heidi Shierholz, Margaret Poydock, and Celine McNicholas.

Summary of findings

Analyzation of recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2023) and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB 2022) reviewed the following:

Overall unionization levels and rates

  • In 2022, more than 16 million workers in the United States were represented by a union—an increase of 200,000 from 2021.
  • At the same time, the share of workers represented by a union declined from 11.6% to 11.3%.
  • How is it possible that unionization levels increased but unionization  rates  decreased in 2022? The answer is straightforward: More jobs were unionized, but nonunion jobs were added at a faster rate.

Unionization by race and gender

  • The entire increase in unionization in 2022 was among workers of color—workers of color saw an increase of 231,000, while white workers saw a decrease of 31,000. Of all major racial and ethnic groups, Black workers continue to have the highest unionization rates, at 12.8%. This compares with 11.2% for white workers, 10.0% for Latinx workers, and 9.2% for Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) workers.
  • The gender gap in unionization is small—0.6 percentage points—and held steady in 2022. The unionization rate for men is 11.6% and the unionization rate for women is 11.0%.
  • The states with the largest increases in the number of workers represented by unions in 2022 were Alabama (40,000), Maryland (40,000), Ohio (52,000), Texas (72,000), and California (99,000).

Union activity and interest

  • Between October 2021 and September 2022, the National Labor Relations Board saw a 53% increase in union election petitions, the highest single-year increase since fiscal year 2016.
  • Evidence suggests that in 2022 more than 60 million workers wanted to join a union, but couldn’t.

The fact that tens of millions of workers want to join a union and can’t is a glaring testament to how broken U.S. labor law is.

It is urgent that Congress pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

The Protecting the Right to Organize Act protects the right to join a union by
(1) Bolstering Remedies and Punishing Violations of Workers’ Rights
(2) Strengthening Workers’ Right to Stand Together and Negotiate for Better Working Conditions
(3) Restoring Fairness to an Economy that is Rigged Against Workers

and The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act gives dedicated public employees in every state the freedom to: 

The Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act gives public employees

(1) Join together in a union selected by a majority of employees;

(2) Collectively bargain over wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment;

(3) Access dispute resolution mechanisms (such as mediation or arbitration);

(4) Use voluntary payroll deduction for union dues;

(5) Engage in other concerted activities related to collective bargaining and mutual aid;

(6) Not have their union be subject to rigged recertification elections; and

(7) Sue in court to enforce their labor rights. 

State legislatures must also take available measures to boost unionization and collective bargaining.