EXPERT INSIGHT: White House Claims that Federal Union Membership Grew Under Biden Appear Incorrect

James Sherk,  May 3, 2023

Key Takeaways

The White House recently claimed that federal sector unions added 80,000 members in 2022—a 20% increase. The White House claims this shows the Biden Administration’s efforts to boost union membership are working.

However, union financial filings document that the largest federal unions gained 1,500 members in 2022, while their total receipts fell by $1.6 million. Bureau of Labor Statistics data also shows little change in federal union membership in 2022.

Accordingly, White House claims that federal union membership has grown significantly appear incorrect.

In 2021, the Biden Administration created a Task Force to increase union membership. The White House recently released a progress report claiming significant progress towards this goal. This report claimed that:

The number of Federal Government employees in a union has increased by nearly 20%. Since the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) began working with agencies to better inform federal workers of their right to join a union, nearly 80,000 workers have done so.

Left-wing commentators have interpreted this announcement as demonstrating the effectiveness of the Biden Administration’s policies for boosting union power, such as making it easier for unions to communicate with federal employees. However, independent data sources show federal union membership changed little in 2022 and has fallen since President Biden took office. The White House’s claims appear incorrect, and the Task Force’s efforts to increase the number of federal union members have had a little apparent effect.

Federal law requires most unions, including federal unions, to file detailed financial disclosure reports with the Department of Labor. Congress intended this transparency to expose and deter the corruption that has historically challenged the union movement. These reports require unions to disclose annually, among other things, their total membership and receipts. The information unions have reported in these filings is inconsistent with the White House’s claims.


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Table 1 shows membership reported by the largest exclusively federal unions.[1] These seven unions collectively represent more than 1 million federal employees, accounting for over 80% of the 1.2 million unionized federal employees.[2]

In 2022 these unions reported gaining only 1,500 members—a gain of less than one-half of a percentage point. Since 2020, the last year of the Trump Administration, the largest federal unions have collectively lost nearly 5,000 members. This net drop was entirely attributable to losses in the American Federation of Government Employees,
which has been enmeshed in corruption scandals that may have repulsed prospective members.


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Union financial filings confirm this finding. Total union receipts fell by $1.6 million in 2021 and are down by over $5 million since 2020. If federal union membership had grown by 20%, these union’s dues income would have grown substantially. Federal unions report that did not happen.

Unless federal unions are systematically falsifying their Labor Department filings to underreport their membership and revenues, which seems highly unlikely, the White House’s claim that federal unions added 80,000 members in 2022 is incorrect.

Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data reinforces this conclusion. BLS works with the Census Bureau to conduct monthly surveys used to calculate the unemployment rate. The interviewers also ask respondents questions about where they work and whether they are union members. Economists use the survey data to estimate union membership in various industries, including the federal government. Because the BLS data comes from a survey, it has a statistical margin of error and is less precise than union financial filings. Nonetheless, the BLS data shows the same pattern as union financial filings: A slight increase in 2022 and a modest overall decrease since 2020.

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Union financial filings or independent government survey data do not support the White House’s claims that federal union membership grew substantially in 2022.

Contrary to their statements, the Presidential Task Force’s efforts to boost federal union membership appear to have had little effect.

[1] Some unions such as the Service Employees International Union represent both federal employees and private sector or other government employees. These unions are excluded from Tables 1 and 2, as their reported membership and receipts include many non-federal employees.

[2] Unionized federal employees are not required to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment. Many federal employees are represented by unions but choose not to become members.

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