Construction trades rank & file continue union exodus

Sources: Associated Builders and Contractors, Washington, D.C.; CP staff

The Union Members Survey from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics finds the percentage of construction industry wage and salary workers belonging to unions dropped to a record low of 11.7 percent in 2022, versus 12.6 percent the prior year. The recently published document shows construction unions lost 5,000 rank & file over the past year, decreasing from 1.024 million members in 2021 to 1.019 million in 2022. That trend contrasts with an industry headcount that grew to 8.67 million in 2022, up 514,000 year over year. 

Non-union workers’ percentage of the overall construction workforce reached an all-time high in 2022.

An Associated Builders and Contractors analysis shows that a historically high 88.3 percent of the 7.6 million-plus U.S. construction industry workforce did not belong to a union last year. Additionally, ABC finds that there has never been a smaller percentage of union members in the construction industry since the BLS began tracking the data in 1973.

“Year-over-year construction union membership dropped despite robust overall job growth, suggesting that industry workers are not enthusiastic about joining a union when given a choice to do so,” says ABC Vice President of Regulatory, Labor and State Affairs Ben Brubeck. “This illustrates why the administration should not continue to advance controversial policies specific to the construction industry that require its workers to join a union and/or pay union dues, as well as contribute into union benefits plans, as a condition of employment on a taxpayer-funded federal project.”

“For example, Executive Order 14063, which requires federal agencies to mandate anticompetitive and wasteful project labor agreements on federal construction projects of $35 million or more—and other policies promoting PLAs on federally assisted state and local government infrastructure projects—are expected to result in more infrastructure jobs for unionized contractors and more jobs for union members at the expense of taxpayers and the 88.3 percent of the U.S. construction workforce that freely chooses not to join a union.”

Research shows that PLA mandates increase the cost of construction by 12 percent to 20 percent and result in the confiscation of 34 percent of a nonunion construction worker’s compensation package unless he or she joins a bargaining unit and becomes vested in union plans.

“Instead of encouraging unions to improve their product and value proposition to employees, contractors and developers,” Brubeck contends, the White House “continues to implement administrative and regulatory actions favoring unions––and push legislation such as the PRO Act––in an effort to increase union membership, which is in historical decline.”