by Paige Terryberry
Senior Analyst for Fiscal Policy, John Locke Foundation
Headlines detailing pro-union pushes at Amazon, Starbucks, and other big companies, coupled with President Biden’s vow to be the “most pro-union President leading the most pro-union administration in American history,” may lead us to think union membership is seeing a resurgence.
In reality, the percentage of American workers who belong to a union hit the lowest recorded level in 2022. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported last week: “the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions— was 10.1 percent in 2022, down from 10.3 percent in 2021.”
Though the number of workers belonging to a union increased over the year, the overall labor force grew more.
BLS reported that the share of union workers is the lowest on record: “In 1983, the first year where comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent and there were 17.7 million union workers.” In 2022, 14.3 million workers belonged to unions.
North Carolina had the second lowest rate of unionization among the 50 states. According to BLS, “Eleven states had union membership rates below 5.0 percent in 2022. South Carolina had the lowest rate (1.7 percent), followed by North Carolina (2.8 percent) and South Dakota (3.1 percent). Two states had union membership rates over 20.0 percent in 2022: Hawaii (21.9 percent) and New York (20.7 percent).”
Union contracts often provide little pay flexibility. With an ever-changing economic environment, like the current rapid inflation we’re experiencing, workers need the ability to negotiate for a higher wage otherwise they will move to another competitor.
Despite their stated intentions, unions are not pro worker. As I wrote previously, the “worker power” that unions champion is really union and political power. Workers have genuine power when they can participate in mutually beneficial exchanges in the market. And while unions claim to represent all workers, they actually represent only their members. Unions intermediate between employers and managers who should know their work product best. To the union, workers are cogs in the wheel, revenue generators through union dues.
Workers’ best protection lies in the free market economy, not unions.
Thankfully North Carolina recognizes workers’ freedoms to make their own decisions on union membership. As a right-to-work state, unions cannot demand payment from workers as a condition of employment. Read more in our report here on how North Carolina can strengthen this law by making right-to-work permanent.