Organized labor has long been a backbone of the U.S. economy, ensuring that workers receive fair pay and have a strong voice at work and in democracy. But data released today from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that just 10.3 percent of Americans belonged to a union in 2019, continuing a decadeslong decline. It is notable and troubling that even with the economy expanding for the last 10 years and union approval near a 50-year high, union membership continues to drop and remains near record lows.
The steady decrease in union participation reflects a number of changes in the economy, including the decline in manufacturing and a shift toward the service industry. But most important has been the public policy environment that allows employers to engage in aggressive anti-union activities and otherwise hinders workers from joining unions, such as through the rise of “right-to-work” laws. In recent years, high-profile organizing by workers across the country, including teachers, fast-food workers, and digital media journalists, has helped to call attention to the need for unions across sectors. In fact, research shows that roughly half of workers would like to join a union, but current public policy makes that unnecessarily difficult.The above excerpt was originally published in CAP Action.