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Under-35 union membership wildly outpacing any other age group

September 13, 2019 Updated: September 8, 2020

The popularity of labor unions is at the highest it has been in decades. According to a recent Gallup poll, approval of unions is at a 50 year high. And while the overall number of union members remains relatively low compared to what it has been in the past, there’s a significant shift happening that may indicate the tide is turning.

A 2018 study by The Center for Economic Policy and Research found that growth of union membership among workers under the age of 35 is wildly outpacing any other age group, a significant departure from the period between 2000 and 2012. So what is it that is driving this change?

Everything old is new again

While it’s impossible to isolate one deciding factor, it’s worth noting that young people today face many of the same precarious working conditions that initially drove people to start forming unions at their workplace to begin with. Lack of jobs with benefits or wages you can pay rent with (never mind saving for a house) have left millennials and younger burned out working multiple jobs, saddled with student debt, and desperately looking for solutions.

Kayla Blado of In These Times recently wrote: 

“So, what can be done about burnout? “Self-care” has been touted by social media influencers as the best solution to restoring your mental health, no matter the cause. Sure, healthy food, exercise and sleep are important ways to deal with stress, and we could all use more of each. But eating a salad isn’t going to fix the systemic problems at your workplace, nor will getting a massage give you a voice on the job, or increase your paycheck.

It is important to address these workplace issues comprehensively, but there is one clear and immediate solution: join a union.

Being in a union means that you and your coworkers work together to fix the problems at your workplace, and then negotiate for solutions with management. Whether this means collectively bargaining for raises, vacation time, better healthcare or more clear-cut job duties, there is an undeniable strength in a union. The negotiations will result in a legally enforceable union contract. Unlike most employee handbooks, once you have a strong union contract, management can’t erode your pay or benefits, or fire you without notice.“

With the gig economy’s promise of flexible income you can build your life around showing itself to be little more than a mirage in a desert of bad employment opportunities, more and more working millennials are turning to organizing as the answer.

New voices in journalism

In 2014, the departure of Steven Greenhouse from The New York Times as their labor reporter left only one daily newspaper, The Wall Street Journal, with a labor beat. Many took this as a troubling sign for the future of labor journalism. But fast forward to 2019, and now Teen Vogue has a dedicated labor column, and coverage of workplace issues is on the rise. “I think, honestly, in terms of what I’m doing at Teen Vogue and what others are doing at other places, is that people are hungry for this,” said Teen Vogue columnist Kim Kelly. “The world’s on fire, fascism is alive and well, and people need to be able to find information and find decent reporting on these incredibly important topics wherever they can.”

“The fact that Teen Vogue allows me pretty much free reign to cover working-class history stories and labor stories, I think it does have a pretty big impact, at least that’s what I’ve been told,” Kelly continued. “It shows that young people today, and people of conscience in general today, want to know more about our history. They want to know where we came from and use that, hopefully, as a blueprint for where we’re going because the future is terrifying, but the past is terrifying too. There are ways to fight back. There are ways to win. We’ve done it before.”

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