The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that union membership continues its over 40-year decline. Union membership in 2022 declined to 10.1% of U.S. workforce down from 10.3% in 2021. That said, total union membership rose by 273,000 to about 14.3 million workers. But, because of the number of U.S. wage and salary workers (most non-union) grew by 5.3 million workers the reported union membership as a percentage of that total workforce continued to show a decline.
The AFL-CIO stated the raw increase in union membership numbers is a success and said they believe the drop in density does not reflect workers that want to be in a union but have only started organizing. They believe “the labor movement is poised to grow significantly in the coming years.”
The 10.1% rate reflects both private and public sector union membership as a percentage of the total U.S. workforce. The public sector unionization rate is 33.1%. Those are workers employed in government. Private sector union membership is at just 6%. Down from 6.1% in 2021.
This data flies against several major forces and movements that are providing a tailwind for organizing these days. First, you have the Biden Administration in Washington DC that is billing itself proudly as the most labor friendly ever. They have turned the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) into a second union organizing arm that is bending labor law in support of unions and organizing. Second, you have the media that as one union organizer said, “having the drumbeat of success that gets amplified by the media is definitely going to help labor as those [organizing] efforts are successful.” And then you have the biggest challenge. After decades of low favorability polling, union popularity is running very high. Law 360 Employment Authority newsletter reports a Gallup poll found 71% of Americans approve of unions. That is the highest level since 1965.
The industries seeing the most union growth were service and hospitality – Makes sense given the union organizing success at Starbucks and Amazon.
Hawaii is the most unionized state in the U.S. at 21.9% and New York comes in second at 20.7%. South Carolina has the lowest union membership as a percentage of their workforce.
Where is Michigan? We are currently ranked 11th in the U.S. with 14% unionization. That is up from 13.3% in 2021. Along with 22 other states, Michigan’s rate of union membership is growing.
Union advocates and officials are still pushing for more of an edge in organizing. They would have loved to get the federal Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO) passed. That legislation would have (and still could) turn labor law so in favor of unions that employers would be fish in a barrel for union organizers. With the mid-term elections giving the U.S. House of Representatives to the Republicans this legislation will be on hold, for now.
What Should Employers Be Doing?
With the Biden Administration’s pro union support and the opinion of the general population favoring unions, non-union employers should be stepping up their positive employer-employee relations practices. What does this mean? In a recent article in Law 360 authors Stacey McClurkin and Grant Mulkey recommend:
- Train your managers in the skills needed to develop and maintain effective relationships with employees. Assess employee dissatisfaction and address issues that give unions a steppingstone to organize.
- Encourage open communications between management and employees. Have regular meetings with HR and Management attending to allow employees to get information directly from management and ask questions.
- Have clear policies and practices. An employer’s policies and practices should be applied fairly and consistently. Make sure those policies are up to date. Keep an eye out for compliance changes coming from the NLRB that may impact employer policies.
- Maintain competitiveness in the job market. Because of the tight job market competitive compensation has fallen behind. Labor organizers are touting their ability to get more from employers. Make sure your compensation remains competitive and your employees are told they are valued by way of reviewing and communicating wages and salaries with them.
These are all best practice activities regardless of your concern over union organization.
HR professionals need get up to speed on the current labor law and union avoidance practices, ASE is offering two new classes on labor law this year:
Union Avoidance: Recognizing and Handling Unionization Attempts
April 14, 2023
1:00 p.m.- 4:30 p.m. – Virtual
This course equips companies with the knowledge necessary to identify, respond, and campaign against a union attempting to organize the workplace. Participants will learn steps companies can take to avoid unions from organizing their workforce, the signs typically associated with a union organizing campaign, ways to prevail in union organizing campaigns, and the laws and rules regarding what companies can and cannot do during a union organizing campaign and election.
National Labor Relations Act Overview
May 25, 2023
1:00 p.m.-4:30 p.m. – Virtual
This course provides a basic overview to companies of all different sizes and across all different industries about the basic rules, requirements, and impact that the National Labor Relations Act has on the management of their workforces. Participants will learn what the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) is, common issues that arise in the workplace that involve the NLRA, best practices for complying with the NLRA, and other aspects of the NLRA that employers need to know.
Law 360 Employment Authority. Union Membership Rates Down Again in 2022, BLS Says (1/19/2023) and 4 Ways Nonunion Employers Can Make Workers Feel Heard (1/17/2013)
Labor Union News. BLS: Union Membership in 2022 Was Lowest on Record (1/19/2022)