Union Membership Hits All-Time Low

Latest BLS data shows Wisconsin, US union membership rates hit all-time low in 2021

Only 215,000 Wisconsin workers belong to a union

A union member today is five times more likely to be a government employee than a private sector employee

Jan. 31, 2022 | MacIver News Service

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently published its annual report on union membership in 2021. The data shows union membership rates dropped to all-time lows in Wisconsin and throughout the country.

In 2021, Wisconsin had a workforce of 2.7 million, a gain of over 100,000 workers since 2020. Of those 2.7 million workers, 215,000, or 7.9 percent, of them were union members, a decrease of 12,000 members.

Since 2009, a net 170,000 workers have chosen to leave their Wisconsin labor unions.

In 2009, union membership in Wisconsin made up over 15 percent of the workforce, equal to 385,000 members. By 2015, 8.3 percent were part of a union. In 2020, union membership hit a six-year high, but dropped to an all-time low just one year later.

The dramatic decrease in Wisconsin’s union membership rate over time is often attributed to collective bargaining reform, passed through 2011 Act 10 for public employees and 2015’s Right to Work law.

In the past decade, unions nationwide lost 8.6 percent of their membership, decreasing from 15.3 million union members 2009 to 14 million in 2021. Wisconsin has lost 44 percent of its union memberships over the same time period.

The United States workforce was made up of 136,395,000 workers in all sectors in 2021. Of the 136 million workers, 14 million, or 10.3 percent, were union members in 2021. In 2020, there were 14.3 million union members in the US, who represented 10.8 percent of the workforce.

Both private and public union members dropped in 2021.

In 2021, 20.6 million people worked for the public sector, and 7 million of them (33.9 percent) were in a public sector union. In 2020, there were 7.2 million (34.8 percent) public sector union members.

Of the 115.8 million US workers in the private sector in 2021, 7 million (6.1 percent) were in a private sector union. In 2020, there were 7.1 million (6.3 percent) private sector union members.

Altogether, unions across the United States have seen a net decrease of 1,313,000 members since 2009.