Construction unions’ portion of the industry’s total workforce declined last year to the lowest annual level in a decade, according to a new Bureau of Labor Statistics report.

The latest annual BLS report on union membership, released on Jan. 19, shows that in private-sector construction, union members’ share dipped to 11.7% of the total workforce in 2022, from 12.6% in the previous year.  

The 2022 figure was unions' lowest in at least 10 years, according to a BLS data table. The recent peak was 14.1%, in 2013. 

The number of construction union members also was down last year, by 5,000–or less than 1%–to 1,019,000, from 2021’s 1,024,000.

By comparison, construction nonunion members' total rose by 462,000, or 6%, from the 2021 level. 

Ben Brubeck, ABC vice president of regulatory, labor and state affairs, said in a statement, "Year-over-year construction industry union membership dropped despite robust overall job growth, suggesting that construction industry workers are not enthusiastic about joining a union when given a choice to do so." 

ABC also said the 11.7% share is the lowest since 1973, when BLS began reporting on union membership.

Unions: BLS Data Understates Their Position 

But Dr. Tom Kriger, director of education and research for North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU), criticized ABC's statement, saying the group's "rhetoric is tired and misleading."

In an interview, Kriger said the BLS data understates unions’ participation level in the workforce. “The BLS numbers are really within the margin of error of the survey,” he told ENR. “Anecdotally, we hear around the country that times are good, people are at work. We don’t have people on the bench.” 

He also said that if the data were to exclude workers in the single-family residential construction sector—a category that has relatively low union worker participation—as well as supervisory and other non-craft employees, "We think we're [at] about 38% or 39% density."

In addition, Kriger said that the number of construction union workers have been increasing. "Over the last five years," he said. "We're up by a couple of hundred thousand members."

Looking ahead, he sees prospects for expansion, with the impact of planned federally funded infrastructure work, major new semiconductor fabricating facilities and renewable-energy projects.

The legislation authorizing those programs included organized labor-backed, though ABC-opposed, union labor preference provisions.

The BLS report also provides data on earnings. It says that construction union members’ median weekly average pay last year was $1,319, a 26% increase over non-union workers’ pay of $976.