Unionization Rates Continue Uptick Despite Remaining Historically Low

By Greg Hoff posted 04-14-2023 13:15


Recently released data shows a continued increase in union membership, union petitions, and unfair labor practice charges in 2022 and 2023, although union membership remains historically low, and below pre-pandemic levels. 

Several large unions experienced double-digit growth in 2022, according to disclosures made to the Department of Labor and as reported by Bloomberg. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters saw a 20% percent increase in membership while the International Longshore and Warehouse Union swelled by 11%. Workers United, most famous for its ongoing organizing campaign against Starbucks, increased by 10%. Overall, disclosing labor unions increased membership 3% in 2022. 

Union membership still historically low: The increases netted in 2022 by several unions may paint a picture of a vast unionization wave as envisioned by the Biden administration, but the one-year numbers alone do not tell the whole story. Private sector union membership remains at roughly 6 percent nationwide, and in fact declined by 0.1% from 2021. In the short term, union membership is still below its pre-pandemic levels, and in the long term, it is at a decades-long historical low. 

Unfair labor practice charges and union petitions slowing down? Newly released data from the NLRB for the first six months of FY 2023 show continued increases in unfair labor practice charges and union petition filings. However, such increases were relatively small – unfair labor practice charges increased 16%, while the number of union petitions filed increased to 1,200 from 1,174. These increases are particularly modest compared to last year, which saw union petitions increase by over 50% and unfair labor practice charges increase by nearly 20%. Should the current pace for FY 2023 continue, the numbers in either category would be less than they were in 2022. Finally, numbers in both categories still remain below the levels seen during the Obama administration. 

Outlook: Since day one, the Biden administration has made it a policy priority to increase union density throughout the country. A White House task force, an extremely aggressive NLRB, and the all-of-government regulatory approach to labor have been levers used in furtherance of this goal. Despite considerable expenditures of available resources, a unionization wave on a large, nationwide scale has mostly failed to materialize. While extensive media coverage has been given to ongoing campaigns at Starbucks and Amazon, overall, unionization rates remain at both short-term and long-term historical lows.