Ask us anything about unions

Teachers walkout in Minneapolis.
Minneapolis Federation of Teachers members rally outside of the Davis Education Center in north Minneapolis before a press conference to announce a settlement last week.
Tim Evans for MPR News file

Minneapolis teachers just settled on a new contract after striking for nearly three weeks and last Friday, the city of Minneapolis reached a new labor agreement with the Minneapolis police union. Unions are back in the news, and possibly gaining broader support. 

At the high point in the 1950s, about a third of all U.S. workers were in a union. Since then, membership has declined. Minnesota still has a high number of unionized workers compared to most other states — about 17 percent of workers in the state are in a union while the national average is 9 percent.  

Despite low numbers, there’s renewed interest in unions as workers battered by the pandemic and emboldened by a tight labor market look for more control over their work lives. 

A Gallup poll in 2021 found 68 percent of Americans approved of unions, higher than any point since the mid-1960s. Nationally, workers at Starbucks have organized several successful union votes and this week Amazon workers in New York City are voting on whether to become the first unionized Amazon warehouse. 

Union interest is also expanding to white collar jobs. In Minnesota, hospital mental health workers and museum workers are among the latest to unionize.

Host Angela Davis talks with a labor historian and a labor economist about the history and work of unions. 

Guests:

  • William P. Jones is a professor of history at the University of Minnesota who studies and writes about organized labor, unions, racial inequality and the history of the Civil Rights movement. 

  • Aaron Sojourner is an associate professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota who focuses on labor, education and social policy. He also was a senior economist for labor at the U.S. President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) for Presidents Obama and Trump.

Subscribe to the MPR News with Angela Davis podcast on: Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or RSS.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.