Union Membership Numbers Higher

The United States had nearly 14.3 million union members in calendar 2022, 273,000 more than the year before, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in its annual survey. 

All the gains came in the private sector, where union membership increased by 293,000, to 7.2 million. The public sector, which has yet to fully recover from job losses the virus-caused crash produced, reported 7.06 million members, plus 823,000 “free riders” who use union services but don’t pay for them. 

Even the BLS’s overall number, and the increase, may be low. BLS bases its numbers on a rolling survey of 60,000 workers through the year, not the individual membership reports unions file with another section of the Labor Department, or union election wins and losses the National Labor Relations Board compiles.

Unlike other public sector unions, the American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA) saw growth in the number of local unions and organizing projects, which could lead to thousands of new members in 2023.

Unions are more popular with the public now than at any point in the past five decades because working people are fed up with low pay, unsafe working conditions and shoddy treatment on the job. This momentum won't wane; in fact, workers are doubling down on standing together. 

In a statement, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler noted the absolute numbers of unionists grew despite intense corporate union-busting by goliaths such as Amazon and Starbucks.

“In 2022, we saw working people rising up despite often illegal opposition from companies that would rather pay union-busting firms millions than give workers a seat at the table,” she said. “The momentum of the moment we are in is clear. 

“Organizing victories are happening in every industry, public and private, and every sector of our economy all across the country," she said. "The wave of organizing will continue to gather steam in 2023 and beyond despite broken labor laws that rig the system against workers.” 

The federation used the data to again argue for lawmakers to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which would hold union-busting companies and organizations accountable and give workers the negotiating power they deserve, so that anyone who wants to join a union on the job can do so.