Yesterday the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its annual report on union density. The report shows that national union membership grew overall by 139,000 in 2023. We also saw union membership in the private sector increase by 191,000 members, and the majority of new members are under the age of 45. The increases in membership are part of a strong resurgence of organized labor which also resulted in over 900,000 union members winning double-digit wage increases through new contracts last year.
In Oregon, density and membership numbers saw a decrease. This is partly a result of higher rates of vacancies in public sector employers, with nearly one-fifth of state positions vacant as of April 2023. Another contributing factor to the decrease in density in Oregon is the high rate of employment, with July 2023 seeing Oregon’s non-agricultural employment surpass 2 million workers for the first time. While union organizing efforts were 10% higher in Fiscal Year 2023 than the previous year, the rate of workers joining labor unions was not as high as job growth and numerous vacancies in the public sector. Additionally, the BLS report does not include workers who have yet to bargain a first contract which discounts a significant portion of newly organized workers.
“2023 was a continuation of an encouraging trend in our country and our state: Workers are not just standing together in the thousands to join and start unions, they are winning,” said Graham Trainor, Oregon AFL-CIO President. “Workers have had enough of poverty wages, meager benefits, and not getting the dignity and respect they deserve on the job. The density numbers from 2023 are not telling the full story of how workers built power last year. Support for unions, especially from young workers, is at a generational high with no signs of slowing down as more and more working people see the life-changing potential of holding a union card.”
While the annual BLS report provides a necessary and helpful benchmark for tracking union density, further examples serve to show the full picture of how labor unions and workers gained influence in 2023:
Polling data shows that 71% of Americans support unions, the highest level in nearly 60 years, with 88% of young people showing support for unions.
The nonprofit and federal sectors saw large increases in union membership among professionals in 2023, with membership growing by 13 percent and 5 percent, respectively. Additionally, school administration was an occupation category that saw a large bump in union membership in 2023, growing by 14 percent.
There is a clearly defined economic advantage to being a union member. Workers in unions made, on average, 11.4% more than workers without unions. This gap is one of the primary reasons unions have record support right now, especially given the economic pressures of inflation and personal debt many families feel daily.
“Unions in Oregon grabbed headlines and inspired workers statewide in 2023 through a series of strikes, successful organizing drives, and victorious contract negotiation campaigns.” said President Trainor. “The remarkable achievements of Oregon unions not only strengthened the labor movement across the state but also set a precedent for solidarity and collective action, leaving a lasting impact on the state's workforce. Their efforts sparked a renewed sense of empowerment among workers, advancing a culture of activism and advocacy for better working conditions.”
In 2024, the Oregon AFL-CIO will continue to facilitate and encourage union organizing every step of the way, while continuing to offer unwavering support for workers engaged in ongoing collective bargaining campaigns. These efforts include significant investment in organizing, expansion of training efforts for affiliated unions, expanding organizing efforts into new industries, and increasing Federation support for union campaigns, strikes, and actions.