Union membership falls despite high-profile labor actions

Katia Dmitrieva

U.S. union membership fell in 2021, returning to its historic low, even as workers became emboldened with strikes and organized campaigns across the country at a rate rarely seen in recent years. 

The rate of union membership, or the percentage of wage and salary workers were part of a union, was 10.3% in 2021, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data released Thursday. That’s down 0.5 percentage points from 2020 and matches the pre-pandemic level of 2019.  

Demonstrators hold signs during a strike outside the Kellogg plant in Battle Creek on Oct. 22.

2020 had seen a rare increase in the union membership rate, because non-unionized workers lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic at a greater rate than unionized ones. Last year, the number of unionized workers also declined to 14 million while the number of workers overall increased.  

The modern era figures pale compared with half a century ago, when organized labor wielded far greater clout and more than a quarter of the labor force was unionized.

— With assistance by Alexandre Tanzi and Josh Eidelson