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30 Most Powerful Unions in America

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Few things have been as important to the development of a strong middle class in America as the labor union. In their heyday, labor unions were an essential piece of the social fabric that helped ensure that workers could have a strong voice in getting paid fair wages, securing important benefits and ensuring safe working conditions. However, the days of organized labor wielding enormous influence are largely gone as union memberships continue to shrink in the face of an ever-shifting economy. From 1983 to 2015, union rolls shrank by nearly 3 million workers even as over 45 million more people joined the workforce, and the proportion of workers in a union was cut in half over that same period.

So, what does the face of American organized labor look like today? What unions still command the largest membership base, allowing them to influence public policy and pressure companies into making concessions?

GOBankingRates looked at the membership numbers from some 78 different unions as available through the Department of Labor and identified 30 that still have at least 100,000 members. Some of them are among the most powerful unions in the nation and have led strikes that changed America.

Last updated: Dec. 30, 2019 

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International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT)

  • Total membership: 111,138
  • Description: Construction-industry painters
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

Find Out: How Much the US Minimum Wage Has Changed Since the Year You Were Born

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National Rural Letter Carriers' Association (NRLCA)

  • Total membership: 114,598
  • Description: United States Postal Service (USPS) mail delivery workers in rural areas
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? No

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International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers (IW)

  • Total membership: 128,511
  • Description: Ironworkers
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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National Nurses United (NNU)

  • Total membership: 130,515
  • Description: Nurses
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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Transport Workers Union of America (TWU)

  • Total membership: 134,022
  • Description: Mass transit, railroad and airline workers
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE)

  • Total membership: 145,525
  • Description: Entertainment (theater, motion picture and television production, trade shows, television broadcasting and concerts)
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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American Nurses Association (ANA)

  • Total membership: 195,884
  • Description: Professional association for registered nurses
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? No

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Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU)

  • Total membership: 199,986
  • Description: Mass transit service workers
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART)

  • Total membership: 203,280
  • Description: Construction-industry sheet metal workers; also shipbuilders, engineers, conductors, welders and more
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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American Postal Workers Union (APWU)

  • Total membership: 235,253
  • Description: USPS workers other than letter carriers
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA)

  • Total membership: 243,853
  • Description: Actors, recording artists and broadcasters
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

  • Total membership: 290,315
  • Description: USPS mail delivery workers in urban areas
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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  • Total membership: 301,886
  • Description: Textile and garment manufacturing workers; hotel, restaurant and gaming workers; transportation workers
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF)

  • Total membership: 314,990
  • Description: Municipal firefighters and paramedics
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

Read: What You Can Rent on a Minimum Wage Salary in Every State

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American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE)

  • Total membership: 332,977
  • Description: Miscellaneous U.S. federal government workers
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)

  • Total membership: 339,746
  • Description: Police officers
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? No

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United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA)

  • Total membership: 355,000
  • Description: Journeymen and apprentices of the plumbing, pipe fitting and sprinkler fitting industry
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE)

  • Total membership: 394,493
  • Description: Operators of construction equipment; stationary engineers
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America International Union (UAW)

  • Total membership: 395,703
  • Description: Automobile, truck, aerospace, farm equipment and construction equipment manufacturing workers and more
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America (UBC)

  • Total membership: 500,000
  • Description: Building industry carpenters
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? No

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International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM)

  • Total membership: 573,365
  • Description: Miscellaneous construction workers; aircraft workers and more
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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United Steelworkers (USW)

  • Total membership: 581,810
  • Description: Steel mill workers; related trades
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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Communications Workers of America (CWA)

  • Total membership: 661,604
  • Description: Telecommunication, customer service, broadcasting, public sector, healthcare and other workers
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)

  • Total membership: 672,551
  • Description: Electrical manufacturing workers; electric utility workers
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)

  • Total membership: 1,248,117
  • Description: Retail store and distribution employees
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

Did You Know? Here Are the 50 Lowest-Paying Jobs in America

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American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)

  • Total membership: 1,327,379
  • Description: Employees of state, county and municipal governments
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

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International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT)

  • Total membership: 1,389,454
  • Description: Truck drivers, warehouse workers and other trades
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? No

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American Federation of Teachers (AFT)

  • Total membership: 1,677,775
  • Description: Public school teachers, registered nurses (RNs), professional, technical and nonprofessional healthcare workers
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? Yes

Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

  • Total membership: 1,918,192
  • Description: Hotel, restaurant and hospitality workers; RNs, professional, technical and nonprofessional healthcare workers; public employees
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? No

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National Education Association of the United States (NEA)

  • Total membership: 3,002,516
  • Description: Public school employees including but not limited to teachers, education support professionals, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, guidance counselors, nurses, administrative assistants, secretaries, psychologists and librarians
  • Member of the AFL-CIO? No

More From GOBankingRates

Methodology: GOBankingRates looked at 73 labor unions within the United States in order to determine the 30 most powerful unions in America. GOBankingRates ranked the unions in terms of total members which was found using the Office of Labor-Management Standards’ (OLMS) union reports under Schedule 13 which tallies total union members. The union had to report the data to the OLMS in order to be considered for this list, thus some unions are not listed. Whether or not the union is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) was also provided as supplemental data. All data was collected and up to date as of Sept. 11, 2019.