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. 

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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. 


  • 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.

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