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Just 1 in 10 workers in the U.S. belonged to labor unions in 2023, a record low

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Members of the Writers Guild of America East picket at the Warner Bros. Discovery NYC office on July 13, 2023 in New York City.

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Members of the Writers Guild of America East picket at the Warner Bros. Discovery NYC office on July 13, 2023 in New York City.

Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Amid a burst of enthusiasm and energy amid high-profile strikes in 2023, labor unions added 139,000 members last year.

But the overall numbers tell a different story.

Due to rapid growth in nonunion jobs in 2023, the share of U.S. workers who are union members actually fell slightly, according to new numbers from the Labor Department.

Just 10% of the U.S. workforce belonged to unions in 2023, down from 10.1% in 2022. That’s the lowest in Labor Department records dating back to 1983.

Union membership has seen a steady decline over decades. In the 1950s, about a third of the private sector workforce was unionized, according to the White House. In 2023, only 6% of private sector workers belonged to unions.

Union membership remains far more common among public sector workers than private sector workers. More than 30% of public sector workers belonged to unions last year.

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UAW members attend a rally to throw support behind striking Big 3 autoworkers on October 7, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois.

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UAW members attend a rally to throw support behind striking Big 3 autoworkers on October 7, 2023 in Chicago, Illinois.

Jim Vondruska/Getty Images

New union organizing faces fierce opposition

The United Auto Workers, fresh off wins at the bargaining table, is hoping to recover some of the steep losses in union auto jobs over the decades with organizing pushes at foreign-owned auto plants in the South and at Tesla in California.

It won’t be easy. Already, the UAW says workers handing out union flyers and t-shirts have faced harassment, leading the union to file unfair labor practice charges with federal labor authorities.

Labor organizing drives at Amazon and Starbucks illustrate how long and difficult a process unionizing can be. Since big union election wins in 2022, both campaigns have been mired in legal battles.

Unions have broad public support

Unions do appear to be winning public sentiment. Support for labor unions remains near a 60-year high, according to Gallup, with 67% of respondents “approving” of labor unions in 2023.

Six in 10 respondents said they believe unions help rather than hurt the U.S. economy, a record high.

However, six in 10 respondents also told Gallup they are “not interested at all” in joining a union, perhaps contributing to the lack of growth in union membership.

Among workers who are already members of a union, appreciation for that membership is on the rise. In 2023, five in 10 rated their union membership as “extremely important,” up from four in 10 the year before.

Gallup predicts that deeper commitment among union members combined with strong public support will likely strengthen unions for the foreseeable future.