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Labor Union Participation Rose Slightly in Manufacturing Last Year

Jan. 23, 2024
Though the overall union participation rate fell by 0.1% last year, the rate in manufacturing rose an equivalent amount.

According to the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on union participation, the share of workers in the U.S. currently participating in a union is at an all-time low despite adding almost 200,000 to their ranks in 2023. The Department of Labor’s Union Members Summary, released January 23, showed that members of unions made up only 10% of wage and salary members in 2023—0.1% fewer than in 2022, beating that year’s all-time low, largely thanks to the 2.7 million jobs added to the economy last year.

The rate of union participation increased in manufacturing, however. In 2022, 14.5 million people worked in manufacturing, of whom 7.8% were actual members and 8.6% of whom were simply covered by union contracts. Last year, 7.9% of 14.9 million manufacturing workers were represented by unions, a gain of 0.1%, and 9.1% were represented by union contracts, an increase of half a percentage point.

The slight change in overall union participation last year had more to do with government jobs than manufacturing ones: the lion’s share of union-represented employees in the U.S. work in the public sector. In 2023, the percentage of federal, state, and local government employees fell from 33.1% to 32.5%.

By comparison, union participation in the private sector was flat from 2022 to 2023, and is now at 6.0% of 122.9 million workers.

The new low in union participation is ironic, considering approval ratings for unions in general are currently high despite a small decline. An August 2023 Gallup poll found that 67% of respondents said they approved of labor unions, down 4% from August 2022.

According to the Associated Press, the National Labor Relations Board, which handles requests to form unions, received about 3% more such requests during its 2023 fiscal year, which ended at the end of September, shortly after the United Auto Workers began strikes at all three major U.S. automakers.

The Bureau’s figures indicate that union participation has been falling for as long as they started recording it in 1983, when 20.1% of all employees and 16.8% of private-sector non-agricultural workers were members of a union. According to the Washington Post, during their peak in the 50s, union participation was as high as 1 in 3 U.S. workers.

About the Author

Ryan Secard | Associate Editor


Focus: Workforce and labor issues; machining and foundry management

Associate Editor Ryan Secard covers topics relevant to the manufacturing workforce, including recruitment, safety, labor organizations, and the skills gap. Ryan has written IndustryWeek's Salary Survey annually since 2021 and has coordinated its Talent Advisory Board since September 2023.

Ryan got started at IndustryWeek in August 2019 as an editorial intern and was hired as a news editor in 2020 before his 2023 promotion to associate editor, talent. He has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the College of Wooster.

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