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News from EPI Unionization increased by 200,000 in 2022: Tens of millions more wanted to join a union, but couldn’t

New data on unionization from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that more than 16 million U.S. workers were represented by a union in 2022, an increase of 200,000 from 2021. Although more jobs were unionized, the share of workers represented by a union declined from 11.6% to 11.3% because nonunion jobs were added at a faster rate. As a result of decades of relentless attacks on the right to organize, the current unionization rate is well under half what it was roughly 40 years ago.

Other key data points show:

  • 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%.
  • States with the largest increases in unionization in 2022 were Alabama (40,000), Maryland (40,000), Ohio (52,000), Texas (72,000), and California (99,000).
  • Industries with the largest increases in unionization in 2022 were transportation and warehousing (+46,000), arts, entertainment, and recreation (+62,000), durable goods manufacturing (+76,000), and state government (+99,000).

There is further evidence that many more workers would like to form a union but face barriers to doing so. Between October 2021 and September 2022, the National Labor Relations Board saw a 53% increase in union elections petitions, the highest single-year increase since fiscal year 2016.

Further, the share of nonunion workers who would like to have a union at their workplace is far higher than the share who actually have union representation. Survey data show that nearly half of nonunion workers (48%) would vote to unionize their workplace if they could. That means that more than 60 million workers wanted to join a union, but couldn’t. The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act provide crucial reforms that would strengthen workers’ rights to form a union and engage in collective bargaining.

“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 policies that make it easier for workers to form a union, including the PRO Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act. State legislatures must also take available measures to boost unionization and collective bargaining,” said Heidi Shierholz, EPI President.

Previous EPI research has shown why it’s not surprising that workers want to unionize. Unionized workers have higher pay and better benefits, on average, than nonunionized workers. Unions help close racial/ethnic wage gaps and also improve the health and safety of workplaces. This all points to the fact that dismantling existing barriers to union organizing and collective bargaining is crucial to generating a more prosperous, equitable economy.