A growing number of workers are showing an interest in joining labor unions and asking to hold union elections at their workplaces, according to new data from the National Labor Relations Board.
The agency said Friday that election petitions had jumped 58% during the first nine months of fiscal year 2022 when compared to the same period the previous year. Workers submitted 1,892 petitions over that time period, versus 1,197 a year earlier, suggesting a significant spike in workplace organizing.
The pandemic saw a notable drop in election petitions during fiscal years 2020 and 2021, which is one reason the upsurge this year seems so pronounced. But the number of filings is still greater than in recent years preceding the pandemic. This fiscal year has seen more election petitions so far than any year since 2016.
Workers have also been filing more unfair labor practice charges, or claims that their employers violated labor law, typically during organizing campaigns. The number of those charges increased 16% ― from 11,082 to 12,819 ― over the same period compared to the previous year.
The data appears to confirm what we’ve seen anecdotally in recent months: that despite a decades-long drop in union membership, many workers are trying to improve their jobs through collective bargaining amid a tight labor market. Since late 2021, Amazon, Starbucks, REI and Apple have all seen a share of their workers unionize for the first time, with workers winning a number of breakthrough elections.
The share of US workers belonging to a union has dropped to around one in ten, which is half the rate it was in 1983, the first year for which the Labor Department has comparable data. It would take a massive surge in election petitions ― far greater than the one seen in recent months ― to restore union density anywhere near where it was decades ago.
Amazon workers at a May Day rally in New York. The JFK8 facility was Amazon’s first to unionize.
Stephanie Keith via Getty Images
Workers can petition for a union election once 30% of a workplace has signed union cards, and the union needs to secure a majority of votes cast in order to win. Unions won around three quarters of elections held last year under the NLRB, which oversees most private-sector elections and is responsible for enforcing collective-bargaining law.
The recent victory at Amazon was the most notable US union election win in decades. Workers at the retail giant’s JFK fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York, voted 2,654 to 2,131 in favor of joining the Amazon Labor Union, a new labor group unaffiliated with an established union. The ALU is now trying to organize other Amazon facilities, including one near AlbanyNew York.
In another historic organizing effort, Starbucks workers at nearly 200 stores around the country have joined Workers United since the union won its first election in Buffalo in December. Workers United has won around 80% or more of the elections that have been held, according to the NLRB.
In fact, Starbucks workers have filed so many election petitions and unfair labor practice charges that it’s been hard for the labor board to keep up. As HuffPost reported in March, funding for the NLRB has flatlined for almost a decade, meaning it has dropped significantly in real dollars. The lean budget left the agency ill-equipped to handle a spike in organizing like the one that appears to be underway.
Jennifer Abruzzo, the NLRB’s general counsel, pointed to the election data last week in a plea for more funding from lawmakers.
“The NLRB is processing the most cases it has seen in years with the lowest staffing levels in the past six decades,” Abruzzo said in a statement. “We need Congress to help us restore the capacity that we have lost after years of underfunding.”