With union membership in a decades-long decline, recruiting a new generation of workers is crucial to keeping labor alive. Yet young workers are (and always have been) less likely to be in a union than their older counterparts: As of 2012, only 9.5 percent of 25-34 year old workers and 4.2 percent of 16-24 year old workers were union members, compared to 11.3 percent of all workers.

At the same time, nearly two-thirds of 18–29-year olds have a favorable impression of unions, more than any other age bracket. The time is ripe for labor leaders to bring the next generation into the fold.

In practice, however, unions attempting to recruit younger workers butt heads with the same forces that threaten labor’s existence writ large. Declining union density means younger workers may be less aware of the value of unionization or, within unions, less acquainted with older leaders who carry the tradition of rank-and-file leadership. With changes in the nature of work, such as the rise of minimum-wage and precarious employment, younger workers have fewer experiences with good jobs to compare against the new, worse ones and, in turn, less clarity about what organizing could accomplish. And there are sometimes generational tensions within unions: For instance, in industries such as auto manufacturing, some unions have submitted to two-tiered contracts, which set wages or benefits at lower rates for new workers—undermining intergenerational solidarity and relegating younger workers to second-class status.
Are Young Workers the Future of Labor? - Working In These Times