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Trending Up: Union Organizing Soared (Again) in 2023

Trending Up: Union Organizing Soared (Again) in 2023
Monday, February 26, 2024
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Most people likely saw headlines about union organizing (like at Starbucks) and strikes (like at the Big Three in Detroit) last year. Accordingly, it may not be shocking to learn that unionizing and strike actions were trending up last year significantly, based on a recent Bloomberg Law report, ANALYSIS: Workers Spent 2023 Unionizing—and Striking—in Droves. 

The report notes: “Unions organized almost 100,000 workers in National Labor Relations Board [NLRB] representation elections in 2023, according to Bloomberg Law’s semiannual report on NLRB election statistics. The total of 99,116 newly organized workers is the largest single-year cohort since 2000, and the fourth largest since at least 1990.” Needless to say, those are big numbers.

Here is a chart from Bloomberg illustrating how these numbers stack up:

It is noteworthy that unions have increased their union election headcount win totals for three consecutive years (2021-2023) – that hasn’t happened since before 1990.

At least some of this success – particularly last year – likely is attributable to some changes the NLRB has made to the union election process over the last year or so. For starters – and perhaps most significantly – the agency overhauled the union organizing process that, arguably, made it easier for unions to be certified as bargaining representatives. The NLRB also sped up timelines for the election process, which many believe favors labor, and also has issued a ruling that allows unions, at least in some cases, to target smaller segments of a workforce (i.e., “micro-units”), which tend to be easier to organize than larger units.

Despite these numbers and “legal wins,” though, union member totals remain in decline. Indeed, in 2023, union membership rates for private and public sector workers dropped to 10 percent, down from 10.1 percent in 2022. For comparison, when this data first became available in 1983, that number was at 20.1 percent – or double where unions are now.

Private sector union membership remains at an all-time low at 6 percent. The public sector rate is more than five times that number, at 32.5 percent (down from 33.1 percent in 2022). So, while there may be some new data for unions to celebrate, on the whole, they seem to be losing ground and a far way off from regaining the stature they enjoyed decades ago.