Press Release

BLS Numbers Are In—But They Don’t Tell the Whole Story

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) will release its annual report on union membership today. The numbers reflect both the tremendously difficult barriers workers seeking to form a union continue to face and the unmatched resilience of working people in our desire to win bargaining power on the job.

But make no mistake: 2019 was a year of undeniable momentum for collective action and collective bargaining.  

  • The following are just a few examples of the extraordinary ways workers stood together in 2019 to fight for our workplaces and communities:
    • Following 2018’s notable year of teacher activism, thousands of teachers went on strike in states like Colorado and West Virginia. In Chicago, CTU-AFT members walked out for a historic 11 days, winning a 16% salary increase over five years.
    • More than 30,000 Stop & Shop workers and UFCW members in New England fought and won a three-month battle for better pay and benefits.
    • Nearly 50,000 UAW members at General Motors Co. walked off the job on Sept. 16, starting one of the longest and largest automotive strikes in decades. After 40 days on the picket line, GM workers secured a contract with higher pay, no change to their health care plan, a defined path for temporary workers and improved time off policies.
    • 20,000 CWA members in the Southeast went on strike to protest unfair labor practices at AT&T, winning a new contract with higher wages and additional job security.
    • Graduate student employees across the country fought for basic workplace protections. Just weeks ago, at Harvard University, thousands of recently organized student employees and UAW members went on strike as they sought a first contract.
  • Unions used our collective political power to expand organizing rights in 2019. The labor movement has elected thousands of union members to public office after passing our 2017 convention resolution, and it continues to pay off.
  • Meanwhile, public approval of unions continued to rise in 2019, reaching a nearly 50-year high. This comes at a time when union activists in unorganized workplaces are gaining momentum, specifically in the hospitality, electric bus manufacturing, technology, video games and media industries. It’s worth noting many of these dozens of campaigns in digital news have yet to be ratified—meaning there are hundreds, if not thousands, of new union members unaccounted for.
  • And all of this forward progress is despite a federal government that is actively making it harder to form a union. A highly politicized National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is abandoning its mission to uphold and protect workers' right to form unions and bargain collectively, as employers are violating the law in more than 40% of all union election campaigns. This comes on the heels of the Janus decision allowing workers a free ride to be covered by union protections without paying dues, throwing out 40 years of legal precedent in an effort to undermine collective bargaining in the public sector. Despite these unprecedented attacks, many of the AFL-CIO’s public sector unions still grew in 2019.
  • Finally, to create a level playing field for union organizing, the House of Representatives soon will consider the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. If passed, it will be the most significant piece of pro-labor legislation since the 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The PRO Act protects working people when we form unions, protects the right to strike, rolls back “right to work,” includes first contract arbitration, and provides substantial relief for workers whose rights have been violated and real penalties for employers who break the law.