The Largest Labor Unions in the US

Union and labor activists gathered along Varick Street to urge the NY Wage Board on its first ever meeting to seek a $15 per hour minimum wage.
Union and labor activists gathered along Varick Street to urge the NY Wage Board on its first ever meeting to seek a $15 per hour minimum wage.
  • Most unions in the United States are associated with either the AFL-CIO or the Change to Win Federation. AFL-CIO began in 1955 and Change to Win Federation split from AFL-CIO in 2005.
  • The first unions in the United States were formed in the 1800s as a response to the Industrial Revolution. The Mechanics’ Union of Trade Associations in Philadelphia was founded in 1827 and is considered one of the first labor organizations
  • Although the Labor union movements have been around for a long time, and have fought on behalf of workers, they have also been bastions of racism and sexism.

Labor Unions are a huge force at work in the United States. They advocate for and negotiate on behalf of their members and have a long history here in the US. Some believe that they are a nuisance, however labor unions have done much to fight for safer conditions for workers. Labor unions have helped increase the minimum age for work so that children aren't working. Here are the top 10 in the United States by membership numbers.

So what do these Unions do?

  1. Education Association of the United States: Founded in 1857, this organization works to support those who are teachers and those who work in colleges and universities. Its members work at all levels of education, from pre-school up through higher education.
  2. Service Employees International Union: Founded in 1921, this union works specifically with members of three different sectors: health care, public services, and property services. The majority of its members are involved in the health care field. Its leaders are elected every four years at a convention. 
  3. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees: Founded in 1932 in Wisconsin, this union represents public employees across the United States. It is the largest trade union of public workers.
  4. Teamsters: The International Brotherhood of Teamsters was founded in 1903 when two other unions merged. The Teamsters have been one of the most influential unions in the United States, over the course of their history. It is one of the largest unions in the world.
  5. United Food and Commercial Workers: Founded in 1974, this union represents individuals across several sectors, including grocery, retail, distillery, cannabis, packing & processing, and chemical workers. It was created by a merger of three other unions, which is why its membership is so diverse.
  6. United Auto Workers: Founded in 1935, this union represents workers in the US and Canada who are active in the auto and aerospace industries, as well as the casinos and some health care workers. One of their notable achievements was the first negotiated employer-paid health insurance plan for industrial workers.
  7. United Steelworkers: Founded in 1942, this union represents workers in the paper and forestry industry, manufacturing, and rubber industry, among others. Initial conversations to create it began as early as 1936, when the Steel Workers Organizing Committee was formed. They have eight founding principles which still guide them today.
  8. American Federation of Teachers: One of the earlier unions on this list, AFT was founded in 1916 by Margaret Haley. It is the second-largest representative of teachers in the United States. Most of its members are educators, although some are paraprofessionals. Its first president, Charles Stillman, lived next door to its operations base.  
  9. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers: One of the oldest unions in this top ten, the IBEW was founded in 1891 and represents workers in the electrical industry and those who work in other public utilities. Its members span the US, Canada, Panama, Guam, and several Caribbean Islands.
  10. Laborers’ International Union of North America: Founded in 1903, this union was a response to Samuel Gompers’, President of the American Federation of Labor, call to convention and and joining together construction workers. Its original membership was comprised of workers who spoke English, German, or Italian.

Impact Of Labor Unions

Labor Unions have been responsible for helping create better labor practices, for creating a shorter work week, and for getting young children out of the work place. 

Although they have decreased in membership and power over the past decades, their fuction is still relevant. 

The Largest Labor Unions in the US

RankUnion NameMembers (Est.)
1Education Association of the United States2,731,419
2Service Employees International Union1,901,161
3American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees1,459,511
5United Food and Commercial Workers1,300,000
6United Auto Workers990,000
7United Steelworkers860,264
8American Federation of Teachers828,512
9International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers704,794
10Laborers' International Union of North America669,772

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