Union-Organizing Surges To Six-Year High
Over the first half of 2022, 1,411 American workplaces filed union-organizing petitions with the National Labor Relations Board—the highest mark since 2015, reports the Wall Street Journal.
Out of the workplace petitions filed in the first half, about 400 have voted to approve a union and 150 have shot the idea down. The balance have either withdrawn the petition or have votes still pending. The 400 workplaces that approved unions represent over 21,000 employees.
While the petition activity represents a 69% surge over 2021, union membership hovers near historic lows, with only 10.3% of U.S. workers belonging to unions. In 1964, almost 30% did, according to university research cited by the Journal.
Employees have increased leverage in a tighter job market and especially in industries beset by worker shortages. “Tight labor markets certainly are conducive to organizing and to workers having more leverage in general,” UCLA professor Chris Tilly tells the Journal.
The year has brought some high-profile victories for the union movement. In April, workers at a Staten Island Amazon warehouse approved the first-ever union of the retail giant's employees, by a 55% to 45% vote. Last week, same organizing group—Amazon Labor Union—announced it was backing similar efforts at warehouses in Campbellsville, KY and Albany.
Columbia University's Mark Cohen saw little benefit to the move in Staten Island, calling Amazon a "high disciplined and regimented" business that pays premium wages and solid benefits. "They might be forced to let people work eight hours but those people will make less money,” he told the Associated Press.
Starbucks is another high-profile target of union-organizing efforts. More than 140 of the company's 9,000 U.S. locations have unionized, with about another 120 petitions filed at other ones.
Greater unionization is a mixed bag for American workers as a whole. To the extent unions compel employers to raise wages and accept reduced worker productivity, it discourages additional hiring and encourages investment in automated alternatives to human beings.
Incumbent, unionized workers may benefit, but at a price paid by what Frédéric Bastiat would describe as the "unseen" workers who are never hired—to say nothing of higher labor costs passed on to society in the form of higher prices.
Nonetheless, a 2021 Gallup poll found public fondness for unions had climbed to a 56-year high, with 68% of Americans expressing approval.