The rise of Union memberships over the last year in the USA signals a sea change in how American workers ally, communicate, and petition for better working rights.
But this increase in Union affiliation goes against 50 years of falling union membership across almost every working sector. So why is Union membership rising now, when more workers than ever work remotely, and on the back of decades of non-Union movement?
“Between October 2021 and March of this year, union representation petitions filed at the NLRB increased 57% from the same period a year ago, according to recent data from the U.S. National Labor Relations Board. Unfair labor practice charges increased 14% during the same period”.
This quote from a recent CNBC piece points to two things – a rapid upsurge in Union membership in an incredibly short period of time, and the rise of employees taking their grievances to court, and putting charges against unscrupulous employers.
Both points indicate workers are sick of poor working environments and want change. But rather than take their issues to management directly, they are combining their voices and pushing for systemic change across entire organizations, utilizing a raft of new tech platforms to get their message heard, and using modern, online communicative power to reach larger audiences more effectively.
Which companies have seen recent Unionizing?
- “More than 250 Starbucks locations filed petitions, and after notching a first win late last year, 54 Starbucks company-owned stores have formally organized”.
- “A team of Amazon workers has forced the technology giant to recognise a trade union in the US for the first time. Workers at a New York warehouse voted 55% in favor of joining the Amazon Labor Union”.
- “Apple Store workers in Maryland have voted to join a union, becoming the tech giant’s first retail employees to join a labor-force movement as part of a wider trend across US retail, service and tech industries”.
What the above three examples show is that Unionizing is not isolated to one particular niche or type of worker. Traditional manufacturing trades famously carried the mantle of Union representation during the mid-20th century, but in 2022 Unions are made up of tech workers, delivery staff and hospitality lifers – a broad, modern church of American workers.
Does the American public support or hate Unionizing?
One of the more surprising facts surrounding the wave of Unionization in the USA is that the wider US public actually supports it.
- In a recent Gallup poll, “Sixty-eight per cent of Americans approve of labor unions. Though statistically similar to last year’s 65%, the current reading is the highest Gallup has measured since 71% in 1965”.
How many US workers are in Unions?
In January 2022, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) noted that “the union membership rate – was 10.3 per cent”. This equates to about 14 million people.
Which sectors have the most Union membership?
The public sector grossly outweighs the private sector. Again referring to the National Law Review piece as quoted above, “Public-sector worker unionization rates (33.9 per cent) continued to significantly outpace private sector unionization (6.1 per cent) – with the percentage of union workers being 5 times more in the public sector”.
What are the most well-known Unions?
- National Education Association of the United States (NEA)
- American Federation of Teachers (AFT)
- American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
- United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW)
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW)
- United Steelworkers (USW)
So what have Unions ever done for us?
We’re glad you asked because many, many people will smear Unions as wreckers or egoists. But before you come down too hard on why your humble steelworker wants to picket, consider the following:
- “The first recorded instance of a worker strike in America occurred in 1768 when journeymen tailors protested a wage reduction. In 1794, Philadelphia shoemakers formed a union called the Federal Society of Journeymen Cordwainers; its establishment marked the beginning of sustained trade union organization in the U.S”.
- “Unions played a major role in ending the sweatshops and child labor so common at the beginning of the 20th century”.
- “Unions run the largest career training program outside the military”.
- “In 2017…the McStrike (in the UK) made history when (McDonald’s workers) joined the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers’ Union (BFAWU) for the first time. They won McDonald’s workers across the UK the biggest pay rise in over ten years”.
So the next time you think “what have Unions ever done for us?”, consider what the world we’d live in now would look like if Unions hadn’t existed. Unions have helped raise wages against unfair executive hoarding; they were instrumental in stopping child labor, they support career growth, and they work across borders,
So what do modern Unions look like?
They’re diverse, they cover a myriad of industries, and they work.
Critically, as inflation surges and the cost of living rises, more and more people are bound to join Unions to protect their income and job against aggressive downsizing or streamlining.