Last week, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics released its annual report on union membership, which found that the number of union members rose by 260,000 in 2017. This reflects critical organizing victories across a range of industries, which have reaped higher wages, better benefits and a more secure future for working people around the country.
Of the report, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:
In the face of a challenging year, the power of working people is on the rise. Together, we organized historic new unions, stood up to powerful corporations and won higher wages. But today’s data is more than numbers on a page, it’s a growing movement of working people that can’t be measured as easily. When more union members fill the halls of power, when wages rise and inequality shrinks, and when a growing number of people see that we can and will change the rules of this economy - that’s when you’ll know unions are on the rise.
Key trends found in the data include:
- Working people in "right to work" states like South Carolina and Michigan are joining unions by the thousands.
- Young workers continue to drive union growth. Since 2012, union membership among working people under 35 has continued to rise. Last year, they made up three-quarters of new members.
- Professionals and information industry workers continue to drive growth, reflecting key organizing successes by the Communications Workers of America (CWA); the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE); the AFT; and the AFGE.
- Recent victories are among working people across sectors ranging from media employees to charter school teachers and librarian professionals to the 20,000 doctors who joined unions in the past year.
Other advocates for working people weighed in on the numbers.
AFSCME President Lee Saunders:
Despite relentless, dishonest attacks from wealthy special interests, working people continue to come together for a voice on the job and a seat at the table. Union membership held steady in 2017, a testament to the resilience of people fighting strong headwinds to continue organizing even in a hostile environment.
It’s no surprise that they value unions—as the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual report shows, union workers earn considerably more on average than their non-union peers. Women and communities of color, for whom unions have historically been a pathway to the middle class, enjoy an even greater pay advantage when they join unions.
Now, corporate CEOs and other billionaires are trying to use the courts to rig the system even more in their favor, chipping away further at the rights of working people. A Supreme Court case called Janus v. AFSCME, which will be decided this year, threatens the freedom of public service workers to negotiate a fair return for the value they add to their communities.
No matter what happens, public service workers and all working people will continue to build power in numbers and stick together in strong unions.
AFT President Randi Weingarten:
Workers are joining together in unions because they want a voice in an economy and political system that they understand is increasingly rigged against them. Unions give workers the power to negotiate for higher wages and better learning, working and safety conditions for our students, patients and communities, so they have the freedom and the clout to secure a better life.
At the AFT, we’re growing, because we care, we fight and we show up—for our students, our patients, our members and our communities; for public education, good jobs and affordable health care; against hate and bigotry; and in defense of democracy and pluralism. In the face of historic disinvestment in public education and services, political turmoil, and coordinated efforts by conservatives to ‘defund and defang’ us, the AFT has grown to more than 1.7 million educators, higher education professionals, nurses, and public employees.
Our success stems from our union’s pursuit of a voice for our members, based on deeply held convictions and a concrete plan for an economy and society that works for all, not just corporations and the rich.
Machinists (IAM) International President Robert Martinez:
The time for talk about growing our union is over. The real work of growing our membership began last year when we saw some of our most significant organizing victories in decades. We will have trained hundreds of members and staff by the end of the first quarter of 2018.
International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART) Director of Organizing James White:
Workers across America are understanding that in today’s economy, only a collectively bargained agreement provides the security and path forward toward realizing economic gain for their families.
Department for Professional Employees President Paul E. Almeida:
DPE is pleased to see professional union membership continue to grow. Our coalition of affiliate unions values the role professionals play in the labor movement, which is why we’ve worked hard to determine how to effectively represent current union members and organize new members. The tremendous gains in the public sector are the result of professionals deciding to join together to have a voice and make workplace improvements in a climate often hostile to those who work in government.
Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber:
This is great news for Michigan’s working families and great news for our economy. We need the power in numbers of unions more than ever to protect things our families need, like affordable health care, good schools, and Social Security and Medicare. Now it’s time for our elected officials in Lansing and Washington to get the message, stop attacking working people, and start working together to protect the freedom of working people to negotiate together for a fair return on our work. That’s how we’ll build an economy in Michigan that works for everyone, not just the wealthy.
Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy:
These numbers show that despite political threats from Washington, more working Minnesotans are exercising their freedom to join together in unions to negotiate for a better life. It’s no coincidence that as union membership increased in 2017, so did Minnesotans’ average wages. Union workers set standards for wages and safety that benefit all working people.
New York State AFL-CIO Mario Cilento:
The labor movement has a long and proud history in New York state, and our numbers continue to grow. We are proud to add an additional 75,000 members to the labor movement, allowing us to provide even more dedicated working men and women with good, solid, middle class jobs and an opportunity for a better life. In fact, the report shows that more than 30% of new jobs created in New York are union jobs.
The labor movement provides the best way for working people to get ahead; particularly at a time when the rights of working men and women are under attack by the fringe right in Washington. We remain committed to fighting for all working people because, when the labor movement is thriving we not only raise the wages, benefits and conditions of employment of union members, we raise the standard of living and quality of life of all working people.
Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain:
Today’s data is more than numbers, it tells us a powerful story and gives working people hope for a better future. It’s about workers standing together to bring forward positive change at work. That’s what belonging to a union is about: standing shoulder to shoulder with your co-workers to protect your freedom to find prosperity, to earn a decent living, to have safe working conditions, and respect and dignity on the job. We live in a country where inequality is rampant. Unions remain the single most effective tool for working people to fight back against inequality. As more workers stand together, our movement will grow, and the future of millions of families will be more secure. This is good news, but our work is not over. Oregon’s unions remain committed to building a state where working people can prosper, and where our freedom to stand together in union is fiercely protected.