Organized labor in America seems to be at a crossroads. On the one hand, the union membership rate in 2022 dropped to 10.1%, the lowest level on record. At the same time, Americans’ approval of unions in general has been on the rise since 2012. And if the current data is any indication, the latest generation to enter the workforce is poised to give unions a surge the likes of which they haven’t seen in decades. While they’re at it, they might also fundamentally change the meaning and purpose of the labor movement in this country.
Gen Z shows strong pro-union tendencies. According to the 2020 American National Election Studies survey, Gen Z gave unions a 64.3% approval rating, surpassing Millennials at 60.5%, Gen X at 57.8%, and Baby Boomers at 57.2%. They’ve demonstrated their commitment as active organizers, unionizing student workers on college campuses and baristas at Starbucks locations across the country. The Left-leaning Center for American Progress reports that not only is Gen Z the most pro-union generation currently alive, they are more pro-union than other generations were at the same age.
Gen Z’s strong support for unions is a broader part of their demonstrated predisposition for political activism. John Della Volpe of the Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics, the author of “Fight: How Gen Z Is Channeling Their Fear and Passion to Save America,” has observed that this generation has chosen “to lean in and fight and try to change the system,” on issues from climate change to gun control to foreign policy.
As American labor unions struggle to decide whether their primary function is to negotiate on behalf of workers or to act as foot soldiers and financial backers for a kaleidoscope of progressive political causes, it’s not difficult to see which side Gen Z will come down on. If the 74% of Gen Z members who consider Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) policies to be a top priority are any indication, we can expect them to use the power of organized labor to implement DEI policies in more workplaces, following the lead of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second-largest teachers union in the United States.
Indeed, teachers’ union activism has become the norm nationwide. The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers union, promotes and provides teaching resources on pro-LGBTQ+ topics on its website. The Oakland Education Association took an anti-Israel stance by endorsing a ‘teach-in’ in support of Gaza.
If the 60% of young Americans who consider Hamas’ October 7, 2023 massacre of Israeli citizens to be “justified” end up joining their workplace unions, they will likely be only too happy to support more such actions.
It’s fair to ask what any of this has to do with unions’ supposed goal of bargaining for better wages and conditions for workers. The data is regrettably clear: with this trend towards increased activism, representation for actual union members has suffered. Some of the nation’s largest labor unions routinely spend as much or more on political activities than they do on representing their existing members. For example, in 2022 the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), representing over 1.8 million workers, spent $63.5 million on political activities and lobbying, which is more than double what it spent representing its membership. The American Federation of Teachers spent $46.9 million supporting Left-wing politics in 2023, while the National Education Association spent less on member representation than it did on political causes.
Organized labor is already diverting too much time and money away from the well-being of workers and toward unrelated political agendas. As more members of Gen Z join unions and gain leadership positions, we can only expect this trend to increase.
As a member of Gen Z, it is disheartening to watch my generation embrace the entanglement of labor unions and partisan politics. Rather than prioritizing the genuine needs of their members, unions carry out the agendas of their Democratic allies, advocating for policies that prioritize a political agenda over addressing the practical concerns of workers. When they push for unreasonable demands such as a four-day work week (supported by 83% of Gen Z and Millennial workers), it undermines good faith collective bargaining. The regular union members, who deserve representation that is focused on responding to their needs, will be the ones to suffer.
The American labor movement has lost its way, and unfortunately, Gen Z doesn’t look poised to help find it any time soon.
However, despite the prevalence of Gen Z’s mindset, there is hope to be found in the workers all over the country pushing back against that mentality. Several hundred of these employees are members of the organization I work for – Americans for Fair Treatment. Our members are teachers, law enforcement, and public servants from across the country who stand against pressure from their unions and their co-workers for the individual rights of all employees.
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Andrew Breschard is the Community Manager at Americans for Fair Treatment, a national nonprofit that educates public employees about their rights in a unionized workplace.
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.