Union membership in Illinois hits record low

Mailee Smith

Senior Director of Labor Policy and Staff Attorney

Mailee Smith
January 24, 2024

Union membership in Illinois hits record low

Public and private sector unions in Illinois saw another 27,000 workers reject union membership in 2023. Just 12.8% of public and private-sector workers chose union membership, the lowest it’s been in 34 years on record.

Labor unions may enjoy high approval polling nationwide, but that is not the case in Illinois when it comes to actually joining a union.

Overall union membership in the state dropped by 27,000 workers in 2023, according to a Jan. 23 release by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It followed a drop of 17,000 in 2022.

It continues a 34-year downward trend for the state, which saw overall union membership at 20.8% in 1989 compared to just 12.8% in 2023, the lowest it’s been in the 34 years on record.

Nationwide, there was little change in union membership numbers between 2022 and 2023, with about 10% of workers belonging to unions.

While the BLS data combines membership in both public and private sector unions, the decline in Illinois has been playing out markedly among the state’s public-sector unions in the past six years. More than 36,000 government workers dropped their union ties between 2017 and 2023, according to federal reports filed by the unions themselves.

Among the government unions hardest hit is the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, which has seen more than 12,000 state and local government workers reject the union. That 18.5% drop is a strong indication AFSCME’s leadership is out of touch with what its members want.

A close second is the Illinois Federation of Teachers, which is the state affiliate of the Chicago Teachers Union and other locals across the state. Nearly 16,500 education workers have rejected the union since 2017, representing a more than 16% drop.

But the number of workers rejecting union leadership is even higher than it looks in the unions’ federal reports.

Take the Service Employees International Union Healthcare Illinois-Indiana, or SEIU HCII, which appears to be the only major government union in Illinois that has gained members since 2017.

SEIU HCII reported just under 60,000 members and fee payers in its 2022 federal report, filed in March 2023. But on its website, it claims to represent “more than 91,000 workers” in four states.

That means at least one-third of workers represented by SEIU HCII have chosen not to be a part of the union. The discrepancy between what the union reports and the actual number of non-members is likely because employees who were hired in 2017 or after never joined the union in the first place.

Similarly, AFSCME Council 31 claims to represent 90,000 active and retired employees. But its federal report states it has just over 53,000 members and fee payers. That means over 40% of the employees it represents have rejected union membership.

The data just released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics further confirms the trend: workers aren’t happy with union representation.

State and local government employees interested in joining the more than 36,000 other Illinois public employees who have opted out of their unions can learn more at LeaveMyUnion.com.

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