Millennials in Unions

Instructor Jason Schwingle goes over a lesson on Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, at the Local 1382 Carpenters Union Training Center in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist /

Jason Schwingle has been in building trades in the Rochester area for more than a decade.

He has seen a lot of changes in Rochester and has been a part of many of them.

Schwingle worked on the U.S. Highway 52 project in Rochester -- specifically the 300,000-yard rock cut. He worked on expansion of the Dan Abraham’s Healthy Living Center and other building projects in town.

Can new generation spark a comeback for unions?

People entering building trades now are in for a boom time, said Schwingle, an instructor at the Rochester training center.

“We’ll be busy, busy for the next few years,” he said.

Schwingle, who teaches classes for apprentices in trades, is seeing more young people and more women entering the sector. He estimates about a third of his students aren’t yet old enough to drink.

“They’re in for a great, long career,” Schwingle said.

As union leader in her 20s, Brittany Anderson reflects the changing demographic Schwingle says he sees. A Minnesota native, Anderson came into organized labor when she was volunteering as an activist during the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York in 2011.

Anderson said she hadn't considered union job opportunities being available to her until meeting union representatives at the protests.

Since then, Anderson, now field director of Southeast Minnesota Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO, has been recruiting people her age into organized labor and is finding people are receptive to her efforts.

“Unions are developing their young worker programs for people my age and younger,” she said. “Out of that, you’re seeing a lot of young people getting into leadership roles.”

Historically younger workers have been less likely to join a union. Although the percentage of union workers has only mildly rebounded, that trend is mostly due to gains in Millennial membership. Nationwide, a gain of about 198,000 union workers offset the loss of union workers age 45 to 54 which dropped by 75,000 over the same period.

The changing demographics are more apparent in Minnesota than at national meeting, Anderson said.

“There are still meetings where I’m the only woman in the room,” she said.

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