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Strikes and Labor Unions in 2022 | Big Data on Big Labor

The labor market keeps changing. But collective action still has power. Here’s what people really think about going on strike, joining unions, and more.

Agata Szczepanek
Agata Szczepanek
Career Expert
Strikes and Labor Unions in 2022 | Big Data on Big Labor

Strikes and Labor Unions

Big banners, megaphones, catchy slogans, and a crowd of people marching to the beat of We Will Rock You by Queen or the more classical Solidarity Forever by Pete Seeger. Demands for pay equality, better working conditions, and fair employment rights are heard loud and clear.

That’s the popular image of a strike.

And it all started in 1619 with the Jamestown Polish craftsmen's strike – the first documented strike in North America. In the centuries that followed, there were massive strikes engaging hundreds of thousands of workers, like the Great Southwest Railroad Strike (1886), the Great Anthracite Coal Strike (1902), the Bituminous Coal Strike (1946), and the Caterpillar Strike (1994-95).

In 2022 we have striking railroad workers, nurses, and employees of global corporations like Starbucks, Amazon, and Apple. 

And inextricably linked to strikes is the activity of labor unions. They are the reason why people mobilize to oppose the employer. In the last 25 years, only one strike in the USA wasn’t called by a union.

But why do people go on strikes? Are they effective? Aren’t strikers afraid of the consequences of losing a job? What is the role of unions in the fight for workplace changes?

That’s where our study comes in. By surveying 1,000+ respondents, we wanted to explore:

  • The impact of unionization and work stoppages 
  • Perceptions and attitudes towards labor unions and strikes
  • Reasons for joining a union
  • Strike-related fears

Expect the unexpected.

State of the unions

But before diving into our research, get some context from these essential facts and statistics about unions. 

  • Despite the boom in workers petitioning unions, overall labor union membership has been declining for the past few decades. The numbers dropped from 17.7 million workers in 1983 to 10.3 million in 2021.
  • According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest unionization rates were among workers in education, training, and library occupations (34.6%) and protective service occupations (33.3%). 
  • The unionization of public-sector workers (33.9%) is more than five times the rate of private-sector workers (6.1%).
  • New York or Hawaii have thehighest union membership rates (22.4% and 22.2%, respectively). In turn, South Carolina and North Carolina have the lowest rates (1.7% and 2.6%, respectively).

Now you’re properly prepared, let’s explore our union-related discoveries. 

Strikes and Labor Unions

First things first. Despite the disruption they can create, do we still approve of unions?? Yes! According to our findings, labor unions enjoy strong public support – 77%. The highest in the US since 1965.

And who, in turn, does not approve of unions?

  • Men tend to disapprove of unions more than women, 8% vs. 2%.
  • In the context of political affiliation, Independent-leaning (7%) express the greatest lack of support, in contrast to Republicans and Democrats (5% and 3%, respectively).
  • Unions enjoy the least support among workers with 11+ years of experience (11%), as opposed to those with 6-10 years of experience (2%).

Please note that the figures you just read do not include those who held a neutral position.

So, men, Independent-leaning, and workers with 11+ years of experience are not union fans. 

Let's forget for a moment about those with a negative attitude. 

72% of our respondents who said they were union members rated their membership status as important or somewhat important. 

Going further, we discover that membership is also tempting for those who aren’t unionized. 48% of non-union members plan to join a labor organization in the future.

What are their reasons? You will find out in just a few moments. But first, let's consider whether joining a union is self-motivated or a product of peer pressure. The answer is both yes and no.

62% of respondents say their friends put pressure on them to join a union. 

On the other hand, employers woo in the opposite direction. 55% confess that they have felt intimidated by an employer into not joining a union. 

Who has experienced such behavior?

  • People working in companies employing up to 50 workers were more likely to experience pressure from the employers than those working in organizations with 500+ employees – 58% vs. 32%, respectively.
  • People new to the labor market rather than those with 11+ years of experience – 69% vs. 46%.
  • Those who participated in strikes also felt more intimidated by an employer into not joining a union than those who never took part in any – 67% vs. 16%.

Thus, people working in small companies with work experience of fewer than 2 years and those who have protested against their employer before are more likely to be discouraged from joining a union.

The good and bad about unions

Strikes and Labor Unions

Much can be said about unions – both good and bad. Let’s start with the bright sides. 

As a part of our study, we asked respondents to indicate the most important advantages of being a unionized worker. Each person was entitled to choose from a maximum of 3 options. And here they are, the top benefits of union membership:

  • Job security – 42%
  • Addressing workplace safety issues – 29%
  • Changing general working conditions – 28%
  • Legal help and representation – 26%
  • Better pensions and retirement funds – 26%
  • Fairness and equal treatment of union members – 26%
  • Solidarity with other workers – 25%
  • Higher wages – 23%
  • Ensuring consistent shift scheduling and no mandatory overtime – 22%
  • Negotiating better employee benefits – 18%

Job security proves to be the clear winner of this ranking. No surprise in these uncertain times of economic crisis and runaway inflation. Conversely, negotiating better benefits closes the list as the least significant benefit.

To give you the full picture, here are some more facts and stats on unions' positive impact on compensation and work lives.

But there's no good without bad. Here are arguments against union membership according to non-unionized workers:

  • Union dues or fees – 48%
  • Disagreeing with unions' policies and opinions – 31%
  • Creating tension between workers and employers – 29%
  • Unequal employer treatment of union members compared to non–union members– 27%
  • Fear of other consequences from the employer (e.g., no promotion, no bonuses, mistreatment) – 27%
  • Less autonomy (being bound by the union’s decisions, no individual negotiations) – 26%
  • Unwillingness to fulfill membership duties – 25%
  • Fear of losing a job as a consequence of joining a union or undertaking union activity – 24%
  • Controversies surrounding unions – 21%
  • The need to “take sides” – 21%
  • Union actions are ineffective, so there’s no point in membership – 5%

Union dues or fees are the most effective deterrent to membership. In contrast, hardly anyone was discouraged by the ineffectiveness of unions undertakings. Does it mean that their actions bring real results? 

Again, to prove the point, here are some stats and facts.

Then, are unions good or bad? It depends, and the most important factor here is your personal work situation and beliefs. 

Let’s use a quote to summarize the above.

An honest assessment of unions

Strikes and Labor Unions

Now that we know a bit about unions, it's time to move on to the next part of our survey. Here, we confronted respondents with a series of general opinions – both positive and negative – about labor organizations. We asked them to agree or disagree with the statements presented. The answers are as follows:

  • Labor unions help employees – 82%
  • Unions have an important voice in work-related matters – 81%
  • Labor unions are essential in a democratic society – 79%
  • Unions have a substantial impact on the compensation and work lives of both unionized and non-unionized workers – 72%
  • A decrease in union representation is bad for employees – 72%

The vast majority share positive opinions about trade unions and their activities. But a high percentage of respondents also see some shortcomings. And these are:

  • The activity of labor unions is disruptive to the workplace – 69%
  • Employers dislike unions and their members — 65%
  • The work of unions is not necessary – 58%

It seems the positives outweigh the negatives. And we can back this with independent data. 

Unions are not saints, and there are many legitimate criticisms of them. However, without a doubt, it can be said that their overall perception is relatively positive. Their activities have had and still have an enormous influence on shaping the labor market and employee rights.

At this point, that's enough about trade unions. Let's now proceed to strikes, an activity closely related to the very existence of unions. 

Status of strikes

Before we jump into the results of our survey, let's look at some strike statistics. 

  • In 2021, there were 16 major strikes and lockouts (by major, we mean involving more than 1,000 people), engaging 80,700 workers. In 2020, it was only 8 major strikes. 
  • In turn, the number of smaller documented strikes reached 265, involving approximately 140,000 employees. 
  • Until October 2022, there have already been more than 280 strikes.
  • Ever heard of Striketober? The term is used to describe last year’s explosion of strike activity. In October 2021, more than 100,000 workers in the United States either participated in or prepared for strikes. 

Consider the above as preparation for what’s coming next. Now, let’s return to our study. 

Strikes and Labor Unions

Employers, brace yourselves, as workers are ready to go on a strike. 81% of respondents have considered the possibility of organizing or participating in a workplace strike. In other words, more than 8 in 10 employees were at least once so dissatisfied with working conditions that they considered such an extreme measure.

Among our respondents, there is also a high rate of people with practical experience with strikes. 76% of respondents admit they have participated in a workplace protest, strike, or work stoppage. 

Who goes on strike most often?

  • People with little working experience, 1–2 years (88%), in comparison to workers with 11+ years of experience (70%).
  • Women are as likely as men to go on a strike. 76% of both genders say they have taken part in strike-related action.
  • Does industry matter? Yes. Those working in software/IT are least experienced in protesting against the employer (72%), in comparison to healthcare workers (77%), manufacturing (81%), or business and finance (81%).
  • Does union membership affect participation in strikes? Of course. Practical experience in this aspect is claimed by 81% of members, while the ratio is only 31% for non-unionized workers.
  • The size of the company is also relevant. In firms with 500+ employees, only 51% took part in strikes, while in smaller entities (1–50 employees, 51–200 employees, and 201–500 employees), it was between 77–88%.

The biggest question is what prompted them to go on strike in the first place. 

Here’s the answer. According to our respondents, the top reasons for going on a strike are:

  1. Violation of employee rights
  2. Low salary
  3. Unsafe working conditions
  4. Lack of employee benefits
  5. Mistreatment from managers/employers
  6. Unfair shift scheduling
  7. Unfair company policies

So, if people don’t like how things are going at their workplace or a whole industry, they're simply taking action. Especially when their rights are violated. 

Workers have reached a tipping point. For too long, they've been called essential but treated as expendable, and workers have decided that enough is enough. They want a fair return on their work, and they're willing to take the courageous act of a strike to win a better deal and a better life.
Tim Schlittnerthe communications director of the AFL-CIO, a coalition of labor unions

Strikes became a means to an end. Quite an effective one. Going back to our study–

86% of people believe that strikes can be effective and bring the results that workers demand.

The situation described above gives the impression that every worker is ready to strike at any time. But the issue is not at all that simple. A strike isn’t an everyday occurrence. Its organization and, above all, participation are connected with specific fears. After all, a strike is a potentially risky form of rebellion against the employer.

Strikes and Labor Unions

The discussion over strikes cannot go without strike-related fears. We didn't forget this in our survey and asked our respondents if they had any concerns about participating in such a protest. We discovered that 60% are afraid of going on strike. 

It's understandable, as a strike can have negative consequences. And we covered that too. Here are the top reasons for being afraid of striking.

  1. Fear of lack of personal safety during strike 
  2. Punishment/retribution from employer
  3. Fear of losing job
  4. Unwillingness to show disloyalty to employer
  5. Fear of standing up to employer
  6. Failure of strike
  7. Can’t afford to lose a day’s pay

You see, everything seems easy and simple, but when we dig deeper the fears that keep many people from protesting come to the surface. Strikes are not riots, but still, people are afraid for their safety. They are also concerned about their employer's reaction and possible consequences on their part. Financial issues arise too. 

But, even if you are not going on a strike on your own, you can still passively support the cause.

Support for strikes

Strikes and Labor Unions

Yes, people support strike actions. Our survey shows that 82% of respondents support strikes as a workplace protest.

On the other hand, a little less support is given to the strikes that have the potential to cause major disruption to the rest of society. As much as 75% of respondents support such “events.” 

You probably wonder which professional groups enjoy the most support for the strikes they organize. We know the answer to that question. When asked which professional group strikes they support the most, respondents said:

  1. Factory workers with29% support
  2. Teachers with11% support
  3. Public administration with11% support
  4. Construction workers
  5. Retail workers
  6. Doctors
  7. Sanitation workers
  8. Railroad workers
  9. Mining workers
  10. Nurses 

The difference in support of factory workers (29%) is huge compared to teachers, who ranked second (11%). The rest of the occupations on the list received support of 10% or less. It should also be mentioned that each respondent was allowed to choose only one professional group with their greatest support in terms of strikes. 

The conclusion here is– 

Not all strikes were created equal. There are differences in public support for strikes, depending on what profession is striking.

But we didn't stop there. We also wanted to explore public support for each professional group separately.


Do you support strikes organized by a specific profession?


Yes (%)

No (%)

Factory workers






Public administration



Construction workers



Retail workers






Sanitation workers



Railroad workers



Mining workers






When analyzed separately, invariably it appears that factory workers receive the most public support for strike actions. Behind them in the rankings are construction, retail, and mining workers.

Conversely, doctors seem to have the least support for the strikes they organize. Next in line are nurses. Why’s that? People, aka patients, don’t like healthcare striking as the emergency may appear when urgent medical assistance is needed. A strike, causing disruption, is a hindrance and limits the number of doctors and nurses available. Being unable to access medical help frightens people more than, e.g. iPhones not being produced or government offices being closed. After all, we’re talking about saving health or even lives.

With all of the above in mind, let’s outline the general perception of strikes.

Honest views about strikes

Strikes and Labor Unions

Have you ever wondered how people perceive strikes? We have, so we made it part of our study. We confronted respondents with a series of opinions and asked them to decide whether they agreed or not. 

  • Employees have the right to strike – 83%
  • Strikes are effective tools to achieve workers’ goals – 76%
  • Strikes bring chaos to the workplace – 76%
  • Strikes are essential in a democratic society – 75%
  • Employers are afraid of strikes – 72%
  • Without strikes, workers' voices sometimes would not be heard – 68%
  • Strikes negatively influence the work atmosphere and mutual trust – 64%

As is usually the case in matters of social agitation, strikes also have their negative and positive sides, thus arousing both positive and negative emotions. 

While they can be an effective tool for achieving some goals, they still bring chaos to the workplace. While they are essential in a democratic society, they, without a doubt, negatively influence the work atmosphere and mutual trust. 

Nonetheless, strikes are natural in a democratic society. As long as they are judiciously organized for important motives that positively change the realities of work, they should not be demonized.

Show me the country that has no strikes, and I'll show you the country in which there is no liberty.
Samuel Gomperslabor union leader and a key figure in American labor history

Key takeaways

Labor unions and strikes are complex and multidimensional subjects. However, we cannot deny these two had a huge impact on how the labor market looks today. Their activity gave us weekends, 8-hour work days, and pay equality. 

It was the labor movement that helped secure so much of what we take for granted today. The 40-hour work week, the minimum wage, family leave, health insurance, Social Security, Medicare, retirement plans. The cornerstones of the middle-class security all bear the union label.
Barack Obama the 44th President of the United States

Keep it in mind while reviewing the key findings of this study again.

  • 77% approve of labor unions. 
  •  55% confess that they have felt intimidated by an employer into not joining a union. 
  • Job security (42%), addressing workplace safety issues (29%), and changing general working conditions (28%) are the top three bright sides of unions.
  • Union dues or fees (48%), disagreeing with unions' policies and opinions (31%), and creating tension between workers and employers (29%) are the top three factors that discourage membership.
  • People with little working experience, 1–2 years, took part in strikes more often than workers with 11+ years of experience, 88% vs. 70%.
  • 86% of people believe that strikes can be effective and bring the results that workers demand.
  •  60% are actually afraid of going on a strike. 
  • Factory workers have the greatest public support for organizing strike actions (29%).


The findings presented were obtained by surveying 1032 respondents using a bespoke online polling tool. All respondents included in the study passed an attention-check question. They were asked a series of questions about their opinions on unions and strikes. These included yes/no questions, scale-based questions relating to levels of agreement with a statement, questions that permitted the selection of multiple options from a list of potential answers, and questions that allowed open responses. 


The data we are presenting rely on self-reports from respondents. As experience is subjective, we understand that there are many potential limitations with self-reported data as some participants and their answers might be affected by recency, selective memory, attribution, exaggeration, self-selection, non-response, or voluntary response bias.

Some questions and responses have been rephrased or condensed for clarity and ease of understanding for readers. In some cases, the percentages presented may not add up to 100 percent; depending on the case, this is either due to rounding or due to responses of “neither/neutral/unknown” not being presented.

Fair use statement

Want to share the findings of our research? Go ahead. Feel free to use our images and information wherever you wish. Just link back to this page, please—–it will let other readers get deeper into the topic. Additionally, remember to use this content exclusively for non-commercial purposes.


Agata Szczepanek

Agata Szczepanek is a career expert at ResumeLab. With her professional insight and thinking outside the box, Agata's mission is to help people from all backgrounds find their dream job. A master's degree graduate in Journalism and Communication and English Philology, her work has been featured by top media outlets, including Forbes, Fast Company, The Motley Fool, and HR Dive.

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