Home / Articles / Union activity increased in 2021, while membership continued to decline

On February 4, Amazon workers at a Bessemer, Ala. facility will vote for a second time on whether they should form a union. Workers there voted against unionizing last February but the National Labor Relations Board found Amazon had “interfered with the employees’ exercise of a free and reasoned choice” and ordered a new election.

The effort is part of an increase in union activity in recent years. Last year marked a three-year peak in elections deciding whether workforces would organize for collective bargaining.

It was also the most number of active strikes in the US since 2006, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The average monthly number of active strikes of least 1,000 workers rose to 2.75 in 2021. It’s the latest in an eight-year upward trend in strike activity.

While strikes and unionization efforts are rising, the national percentage of workers in a union has declined for 14 of the last 15 years. About 10.3% of all workers are in a union as of 2021.

Unions have won about 70% of unionization elections since 2012.

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How many unionization elections were held in 2021?

The number of elections held to unionize workplaces increased in 2021. According to the National Labor Relations Board, 951 representation elections were held in 2021, a 12.8% increase from 2019.

Despite this, unionization elections are still lower than the 10-year average of 1,224.

Unions won about 70% of these elections last year, on par with the 10-year average. In addition to unionization elections, employers may choose to voluntarily recognize a union when at least 50% of employees in a workforce ask for representation. The government doesn’t keep data on voluntary union recognition.

Strike activity reached 15-year highs in 2021.

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How many strikes were there in 2021?

There were nine active strikes of at least 1,000 workers in 2021. Eight were new strikes and one began five years ago and remains active.

As of January 2022, there are three ongoing strikes, two of which started in 2021. Columbia University workers in New York went on strike in November. Warrior Met Coal employees in Alabama went on strike in April. The nation’s longest ongoing strike is by workers from Charter Communications in New Jersey and New York. Their strike began in 2017.

Eight new strikes and several multi-month strikes drove 2021’s increased strike activity.

Month Total number of active strikes New strikes beginning
Jan. 2021 1
Feb. 2021 1
Mar. 2021 1
Apr. 2021 3 1,300 Allegheny Technologies employees begin striking in Ohio and Connecticut, and 1,100 Warrior Met Coal employees begin striking in Alabama.
May 2021 3
Jun. 2021 3
Jul. 2021 4 2,900 Volvo Trucks employees begin striking in Virginia.
Aug. 2021 2
Sep. 2021 3 1,000 Nabisco employees begin striking in Illinois, Colorado, Georgia, Oregon, and Virginia.
Oct. 2021 4 2,000 Mercy Hospital employees begin striking in New York, and 1,400 Kellogg Company employees begin striking in Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee.
Nov. 2021 4 10,000 John Deere employees begin striking in Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas.
Dec. 2021 4 3,000 Columbia University employees begin striking in New York.

An average of 4,883 workers were on strike each month in 2021, a fraction of the 14 million unionized workers nationwide. In an average month last year, about 61% of striking workers participated in a continued strike lasting two months or more. The manufacturing sector represented about 40% of striking workers in an average month, including the year’s largest strike of 10,000 John Deere employees that began in November.

The information sector accounted for 35% of striking workers in an average month, solely due to the Charter Communications strike.

On average, 4,883 workers participated in a strike each month in 2021.

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How many workers are in unions?

The latest BLS union membership data released in January shows union membership declined to 10.3% of all employees last year. Fourteen million US workers were union members out of 136.4 million workers overall. An additional 1.8 million workers had union representation without being a member because their employer had a collective bargaining agreement with a union.

Union membership has declined since the 1980s.

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Three sectors of the economy had higher union membership rates in 2021 than in 2010: financial activities, information, and agriculture. Union membership has declined in all other industries since 2010.

Learn more about how labor is recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic at the USAFacts Impact and Recovery Hub and get the facts every week by signing up for our newsletter.

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