Was 2022 Really a Banner Year for Unions?

By Tim Murphy and Meg Murphy - Skoler Abbott P.C.

February 15, 2023

If you follow labor news, even casually, it would be easy to assume that everything is coming up roses for Unions. Just look at:

• The Biden Administration, including the National Labor Relation Board’s (NLRB) Democratic majority, rolling out union-friendly decisions and initiatives;
• Unions winning elections in places they never have before (think Starbucks, Apple, and Amazon);
• The spike in worker militancy, including strikes; and
• Polls showing that nearly two-thirds of Americans approve of Unions, the highest since 1965.

And the numbers back the news headlines.

Bloomberg Law recently issued its annual NLRB Election Statistics, Year-End 2022 Report and its thirty-two pages are chock full of good news for Unions. In short, there were more Union elections in 2022 than in previous years and Unions were winning most of them:

• There were 1,573 elections in 2022 up from 1,021 in 2021. Unions won 1,196 of those elections, an increase from 764 wins in 2021; and
• Unions won 76% of the 2022 elections marking the fifth straight year the Union win rate was higher than 70%. (For comparison: Unions have won more than 60% of all representation elections in each of the past 18 years.).

Among the report’s more surprising revelations was that Unions had their greatest 2022 successes in bigger elections. Unions won 87% of elections with 500 or more workers. Historically, Unions have not fared as well in bigger elections. And 2022 saw the most elections with 500 or more workers – 23 such elections – since  2011.

The Bloomberg report also shows that when Unions can muster enough worker interest to get to an election in right-to-work states (“RTW”), they do pretty well. RTW states have laws that guarantee that no worker can be forced, as a condition of employment, to join or pay dues or fees to a union.Of the 1,573  elections held in 2022, 368 took place in RTW states. Unions won 73.1% of those. In non-RTW states, Unions won 77% of the remaining elections. The relatively minor difference in win rates belies the popular belief that Unions cannot win elections in RTW states. The real issue for Unions, then, may be that there are just too few elections in RTW states, rather than that workers there are hostile to the Union message.

But was 2022 really the banner year for Unions that it seems?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (“BLS”) reported last month that despite Union membership gains, the share of U.S. workers belonging to Unions actually hit a historic low in 2022. Talk about a buzzkill.

According to the BLS, the unionized slice of the nation’s workforce in 2022 slipped to 10.1% from the previous record low of 10.3% in 2019. (BLS started tracking these numbers in 1983.) The BLS report reveals that while Union membership had risen by 273,000 — that increase was outpaced by the rapid growth of non-Union jobs. It seems that the decades-long trend of declining Union membership continues after all.

But Unions aren’t going anywhere. They will continue to be a significant force in the economic, cultural, and political life of the country for years to come. Like most things, Unions will continue to have their ups and downs – sometimes simultaneously.

If you’d like to know more about Unions and how they might impact your organization, now is a good time to consult with the labor lawyers at Skoler Abbott.

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