The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recorded a substantial rise of 200,000 unionized workers in the United States from 2021 to 2022, of which almost all included workers of color, the New Republic reported in March 2023. According to BLS, unionized workers of color increased by 231,000 last year, while white unionized workers decreased by 31,000.
Recent data shows that the largest increase in union membership this year occurred in state and local government positions in the South. Low-wage workers of color in the public sector have been driving the overall gains.
As reported by Prem Thakker, “According to BLS data, industries that saw the largest increases in unionization were state government; durable goods manufacturing; arts, entertainment, and recreation; and transportation and warehousing.” States with the largest increases in unionization included California, Texas, Ohio, Maryland, and Alabama. Whereas Republican and Democratic politicians often separate everyday concerns from issues of identity, these data demonstrate how identity and workers’ rights are closely connected.
“After all, unionization and labor struggles are direct mechanisms to better accomplish racial and social equality; the ability for people to afford to live happy and dignified lives is inherently tied to their ability to enjoy fundamental social and civil rights within those lives, too,” Thakker wrote.
Over the past year, the corporate press published hundreds of articles on union organizing at corporations such as Starbucks and Amazon. In January 2022, the New York Times criticized media coverage of the labor movement. The Times pointed out that, despite the growing popularity of unionizing at Starbucks and Amazon and the significant involvement of women in union activities, there has been a significant downward trend in union membership for the past forty years. Some corporate coverage, such as CNBC, has acknowledged the growth in union membership. CNBC attributed this growth to the Covid-19 pandemic, supportive politics, and recent union organizing successes. However, both examples demonstrate how corporate coverage fails to address the diverse sectors where union interest is growing, the significance of the current racial and regional makeup of union growth, and the decrease in organizing among white workers.
Prem Thakker, “Workers of Color Made Up 100% of Union Growth in 2022,” The New Republic, March 24, 2023.
Mike Elk, “Workers of Color Accounted for 100% of Union Growth in 2022,” Payday Report, March 28, 2023.
Student Researcher: Cem İsmail Addemir (Illinois State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)