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When Do U.S. Workers First Experience Unionization? Implications for Revitalizing the Labor Movement



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       The author’s affiliation is Center for Human Resources and Labor Studies, University of Minnesota. E-mail: I am grateful to Kristen Munday and Jonathan Booth for their invaluable research assistance, and to Tom Kochan for his suggestions and encouragement.


Debates over revitalizing the U.S. labor movement often overlook when workers are first unionized. This article analyzes the frequency and nature of workers’ first unionized jobs by tracking a cohort of individuals from age 15/16 to 40/41. Though workers are most likely to be unionized when they are in their forties, this article shows that surprising numbers of individuals first encounter unionization in their jobs at a much younger age. These results highlight the importance of experiential union membership models as well as life-cycle union representation strategies that recognize the young age at which many workers are first unionized.

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