Workplace democracy remains only a dream for many – but there is reason for hope

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released startling data about union membership in the United States. Specifically, union membership in 2023 declined to 10% of the workforce in the private and public sectors combined. This may be surprising to some given the high-profile and successful union organizing in recent years regarding prominent corporations, such as Starbucks, Apple, Trade Joe’s, REI, and Google. More to the point, according to national polling, approximately 70% of the public continues to support unions and otherwise views unionization as positive.

That only 10% of the workforce is unionized when approximately 70% want unionization underscores the dire need for immediate labor law reform. Fortunately, Harvard Law School’s Center for Labor and a Just Economy published a detailed and comprehensive report that provides excellent guidance about the way forward for labor law. Harvard’s report, entitled “Clean Slate for Worker Power: Building a Just Economy and Democracy,” recommends an array of fundamental policy changes to end the workplace democracy deficit swiftly and decisively. On the enforcement side, New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service – through its newly launched NYU Wagner Labor Initiative – helps to coordinate efforts by public and private advocates to protect labor rights and to expand workplace democracy. Last – but certainly not least – unions and progressive nonprofit organizations are pursuing creative strategies to empower employees and their communities. Georgetown University’s Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor recently published a report, entitled “Aligning for Power,” that describes how unions and progressive nonprofit organizations have collaborated effectively to promote a fair economy more broadly.