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July 29, 2022

The Resurgence of Union Workforces

by Matt Austin, Esq., Austin Legal, LLC

Unions are making a comeback. While unionization efforts at Starbucks have garnered most of the media’s attention, union election petitions (the first step for unions to represent employees) are up nearly 60% from last year. Retail, health care, manufacturing and technology sectors have seen the most activity.

In December 2021, zero Starbucks stores had unions. Now, over 165 stores are union. Employees at roughly 130 stores have not yet voted whether they want union representation. Employees at 25 stores voted against being union. Unions have withdrawn election petitions at 21 locations – usually a sign the union knew it would lose the election. Similar activity is happening at Amazon warehouses, Apple stores and elsewhere.

These trends appear to reverse a year-over-year decline in union workforces. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, union membership is down significantly from its highest point 70 years ago. Less than 7% of private-sector workers are now in unions compared to 35% in 1953.

Factors contributing to the recent rise in union campaigns include: unions changing their organizing strategies; younger workers viewing unions more favorably; and the federal government’s efforts to increase unionization.

Unions used to balk at organizing small workplaces. Unions are a business that receives revenue from dues-paying members. They used to prefer to organize large workplaces with thousands of employees. But this strategy has failed for a long time. Now, some unions believe it is better to obtain thousands of dues-paying members 10, 25 or 50 members at a time.

Unions used this tactic to organize hundreds of Starbucks stores. Per union organizers, the more Starbucks stores that are represented by a union should result in more employees at similar companies like Wendy’s, Chipotle, White Castle and Charley’s Philly Steaks desiring union representation as well. This strategy is too nascent to be ruled a success or failure yet.

A Gallup poll in September 2021 showed 68% of Americans approve of labor unions – the highest rate since 71% in 1965. But notably, 77% of workers between 18 and 34 favor unions. Most of these workers believe that labor unions have a positive effect on the country. Recent union victories at Starbucks, Amazon and Apple were all led by young workers.

Lastly, President Biden vowed to be “the most pro-union president ever.” He, as well as the National Labor Relations Board – the federal agency tasked with protecting workers’ ability to join unions – have also taken several steps to make union organizing easier.

This resurgence of unions is not likely to wane anytime soon. Unions are committed to organizing smaller workplaces and have found success in doing so. Worker sentiments towards unions are at a near all-time high. Employees across the country are following Starbuck’s success and seeking union representation at their own workplaces. While unions have suffered some setbacks and have lost elections, the trend of increased unionization will continue.

A Gallup poll in September 2021 showed 68% of Americans approve of labor unions – the highest rate since 71% in 1965. But notably, 77% of workers between 18 and 34 favor unions. Most of these workers believe that labor unions have a positive effect on the country. Recent union victories at Starbucks, Amazon and Apple were all led by young workers.