Since approximately mid-2021, unions have been aggressively seeking to reassert their relevance in the US workplace. Extensive media coverage of high-profile union organizing campaigns at Amazon, Apple, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and other well-known large companies has chronicled those efforts, but unions have been hard at work seeking to organize employees at employers of all sizes and in diverse industries and service sectors. These efforts have been undertaken at a time when union density – the percentage of the workforce represented by a labor union – is at a record low level. (Union density in 2022 in the private sector US workforce was 6.0 percent.) Data recently released by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) – the federal administrative agency that oversees the relationship between employees, employers, and unions – as well as data from a Bloomberg Law analysis, show the extent of those efforts and their impact on union membership.
The NLRB reported that in the first six months of its 2023 fiscal year (from October 1, 2022 until March 31, 2023), unions filed 1,200 petitions seeking to represent employees, which was slightly more (by a few dozen) than the number of petitions filed in the preceding six month period, which previously had been notable for its dramatic increase over prior periods. Along with an increase in unfair labor practice charges filed during the first six months of fiscal year 2023, the NLRB’s case load increased 14% over the same period in its 2022 fiscal year. The number of petitions filed in the first half of fiscal year 2023 mirrors the recent surge in union organizing activity: in fiscal year 2022, unions filed 2,510 petitions with the NLRB, an increase of 53% from the number of petitions filed in fiscal year 2021. If the second half of fiscal year 2023 matches the first half, 2,400 petitions would be filed this year – which would be 700 more petitions than were filed just two years ago in fiscal year 2021.
The number of petitions filed with the NLRB undeniably shows the substantial increase in recent union organizing activity. But what about actual union success? Has the spike in petitions translated to more employees selecting union representation?
In a word, yes. Data from an analysis performed by Bloomberg Law of records filed by unions with the US Department of Labor shows that several unions experienced double-digit percentage growth in their membership in 2022. For example, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters gained more than 200,000 members – an increase of 20% – in 2022. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union grew its membership by 11%, adding more than 3,200 members in 2022. Workers United, the union seeking to organize Starbucks workers, bumped its membership by 10%, picking up 7,400 new members. Overall, more than half of the unions surveyed by Bloomberg Law saw increases in membership in 2022, supporting that the increase in organizing activity has been coupled with successes for unions in representation elections.
Nothing suggests that this trend will change anytime soon. If anything, the recent successes enjoyed by unions combined with continued media coverage of high-profile organizing drives may result in further and more extensive organizing efforts. This being the case, employers whose employees are not currently represented by unions should familiarize themselves with the law in this area so that they can be prepared to respond, and to respond lawfully, should employees explore union representation. Squire Patton Boggs’ traditional labor relations team can assist employers in developing appropriate, legally compliant strategies, policies, and training to prepare to respond to any union organizing activity.