Unions Are All but Extinct, Right?—Don’t Bet On It!

Jun 3, 2022 | Blog

A little history: Unions hit their peak in the mid-fifties, at which point one of every three workers belonged to one union or another. But, since that era, as a result of union corruption, increased employer resistance, or just plain laziness on the part of unions, the percentage of American workers in unions overall has decreased almost every year. Today, for example, other than public employees (e.g., police, fire fighters, sanitation workers, teachers, etc.), only 6.1 percent of the private sector workforce belongs to a union as of January 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And, of the approximately 14 million workers in unions, approximately 30 percent live in just two states, California and New York. Considering the shrinkage suffered over the past half century, many may assume that unions will eventually go away—that is, become extinct. Not by a long shot!

Many believe that the general “tenor” of labor-management relations is set by the National Labor Relations Board, the five-member panel appointed by the President of the United States. Just as important (or perhaps more so) is the NLRB General Counsel, who supervises the NLRB’s 26 regional offices around the country. Rulings of the Board and edicts coming from the General Counsel’s office generally “swing” one way or the other (i.e., toward management or labor) depending on which party sits in the White House, but these so-called swings generally are fairly moderate. However, President Biden promised to be the most labor-friendly president in history upon taking office, and that has proved to be very true. As reported last month by the NLRB, the number of representation petitions filed with the Board increased by 57% in the first half of Fiscal Year 2022.

Why the sudden drastic increase in union organizing activity? For one, the NLRB General Counsel has made it easier for unions to organize unrepresented employees. For many decades, employers, when presented with a representation petition filed with the Board, had approximately 6 weeks before a secret ballot election was held to educate the workforce to enable it to decide that unions were perhaps not in the employees’ best interest. The results were, generally speaking, against unionization. Then, after President Obama was elected, the above time frame shrank from 42 days down to 21 days. With that reduced time, many employers were unable to adequately “get the word out,” and unions experienced some more success. When President Trump took office, things started to revert to what had been normal for many decades.

The new General Counsel, under the Biden administration, appears intent on making things much easier for unions with her changes in representation case rules and procedures. And unions are taking advantage of these changes—thus the rapid increase of petitions being filed.

One example of the increased union activity is Starbucks. Since the SEIU (Service Employees International Union) began its campaign to organize that company, there have been well over two hundred separate petitions filed to represent Starbucks’ employees at locations throughout the country.  These petitions have been for separate Starbucks stores and involve approximately 20-30 employees each…and there has been no let-up.

Starbucks is not alone. There has been an uptick in representation petitions filed to represent employees at other eateries too. Then there’s Amazon. Like Starbucks, Amazon also seems to have been targeted for organizing, along with Apple and Walmart. The list goes on and on.

So, are unions approaching extinction? Hardly! So what can employers do about it? One alternative is to do nothing and hope that they never have to face a union organizing drive and, in the event that a drive does happen, hope that they can turn things around in 21 days. However, the more prudent employer will choose to be more proactive and take the necessary steps to preemptively prepare for and ward off a union attempt.

For any questions about union organizing signs and techniques, or for assistance in avoiding unionization, please contact Philip S. Mortensen.