The number of St. Louis-area workers who are members of Labor unions is growing.
According to the St. Louis Business Journal:
“From 2021 to 2022, the number of employees that are members of the region’s largest 25 Labor unions increased one percent to 86,291, reflecting a growth of nearly 1,000 workers over 2021 numbers.
“The growth, though small, mirrors both statewide and national data showing that more individuals joined Labor unions in 2022.
“The number of workers in Missouri who are members of Labor unions grew 2.5 percent to 2.68 million in 2022, reflecting 66,000 more members than 2021. Nationally, the number of workers who belonged to a union grew 1.9 percent to 14.3 million, reflecting an addition of 273,000 workers over 2021 membership.”
While the number of union members increased nationally, union density, or the union membership rate — the overall percentage of wage and salary workers who were members of unions — has been in decline for years. In 2022, the rate was 10.1 percent down from 10.3 percent in 2021 and 10.8 percent in 2020.
That isn’t necessarily a sign that union are losing members, the Business Journal reports. The issue is a statistical one: The total number of people employed in the U.S. has grown at a significantly faster rate than the number of union members did, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In Missouri, the union membership rate increased to 9.6 percent in 2022 from 9.0 percent in 2021, meaning that both the number of union members and the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions increased, bucking the national trend.
That’s no surprise to Jake Hummel, president of the Missouri AFL-CIO.
“Missouri in general, and especially the greater St. Louis area, is a pretty union-dense area of the country,” Hummel told the Business Journal. “We have a lot of membership that has invested in organizing, and I think it’s starting to pay off. There’s a lot of dissatisfaction with workers in general right now.
“We’ve done a lot of actions for some of our service industry (members), you know, Starbucks and McDonald’s, those workers that are at a much lower tier, trying to have some family-sustaining income. They’ve been struggling for a long time. Inflation is high and it’s a smaller and smaller piece of the pie for those workers, and they’re using the one tool that’s available to them to try to make a difference in their family’s lives.”
Hummel noted that a lot of unions have brought on full-time organizers or converted some of their service staff to organizers. “We’re flooded with calls daily,” Hummel said. “I know most unions get calls all the time from prospective members at plants that aren’t organized saying, ‘Listen, we’re really struggling here. We think we need to have a voice in the workplace. We’d like to become a union.’”
As for why the union membership rate is falling nationally but has increased in Missouri, Hummel said:
“Certainly we’ve lost a lot of members to manufacturing closing and moving out of the country. First, we saw a mass exodus south of the border, and then we saw a lot of those factories closing and going to China. You know, if you move to China where it’s $2 or $3 a day, workers can’t compete with that. And it’s very difficult. But what I would say is, getting back to the St. Louis area, we have great partnerships with our business community. St. Louis has this really long history (with unions). We have really good relationships with most of our businesses we work with. It’s not necessarily adversarial. Sure, at contract times, we have disputes on pay and benefits and working conditions. But at the end of the day, our membership wants to make sure that those companies stay in business and prosper because they’re providing employment. So that’s really helped our region.
“As we gear more into advanced manufacturing, I think that there’s a training aspect to everything. Everything has a very specific skill set. And there’s a lot of different aspects to learn. Some of that can be learned on the job, some of that has to be learned in a classroom. Trying to stay ahead of all those trends to make sure that your members are marketable, to make sure that your employer is profitable, stays in business, and can employ their employees long term. Industries change all the time. Looking at Missouri in general, the cannabis industry, which was not here a couple of years ago, is booming. We have had a lot of success recently, in organizing those workers. There’s just new industries that pop up every day.”
Information from the St. Louis Business Journal. To read the full story, visit https://www.bizjournals.com/stlouis/news/2023/08/18/st-louis-labor-union-growth-trends-missouri.html.