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Union Petitions Jump 58% as U.S. Labor Movement Gains Momentum

By Eliza Haverstock

Last updated: Feb 15, 2023

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The NLRB received 2,000 new union representation petitions in the last nine months, a new report shows.

Apple store located at the International Finance Center. Image courtesy of Chalie Chulapornsiri via Shutterstock.
Apple store located at the International Finance Center. Image courtesy of Chalie Chulapornsiri via Shutterstock.

Workers at Starbucks cafes, Amazon warehouses and an Apple store have all won high-profile union votes in recent months — and they’re not alone, according to a report released by The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) on Wednesday.

More accurately, the labor movement is on a rocketship. In the nine months ending June 30, the NLRB received almost 2,000 union representation petitions — filed by employers, employees or unions who want to hold an official vote to determine if the majority of workers wish to be represented by a union. That’s a 58% increase over the same time period a year ago, the federal agency said.

Workers have had enough of unscrupulous employers, too. The NLRB collected nearly 13,000 unfair labor practice charges in the last nine months, a 16% year-over-year increase. Anyone can file a charge with the NLRB if they believe an employer or union violated the National Labor Relations Act, which prohibits behavior such as retaliation against employees who discuss organizing a workplace union. Agents at one of the NLRB’s 48 field offices investigate each charge.

The new data signals hope for unions, even as a recession looms and the job market cools. Historically, recessions have brought a mixed bag for labor: “The Great Depression invigorated the modern American labor movement…The Great Recession has crippled it,” The New Yorker wrote back in 2011. But with inflation now running north of 9% and interest rates quickly climbing back from rock-bottom, the full extent of an economic slowdown (and its impact on the labor movement) may be yet unseen.

Tech's labor movement

As layoffs pummel the tech industry, tech workers may be especially eager to organize. Employers typically must negotiate with unions if layoffs are on the table — and union contracts can also enshrine severance packages, preferential rehire rights and other layoff-related protections. A Maryland Apple store’s successful (and closely watched) union vote in late June also poured fuel on tech’s burgeoning labor movement.

“They want to negotiate over hours of work, working conditions, all the things a union does,” David Sullivan, a general vice president for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers who helped organize the Maryland Apple store, told Bloomberg last month. “When workers around the country see what we are doing, I think they are going to want to be part of this…I don’t think it is going to slow down.”

In the meantime, the NLRB is demanding greater federal resources to meet the rising union tide. The agency said Congress has kept its budget flat for nine consecutive years, even with rising costs and an “unsustainable” caseload.

“The NLRB is processing the most cases it has seen in years with the lowest staffing levels in the past six decades,” NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo said in a statement. “We need Congress to help us restore the capacity that we have lost after years of underfunding.”

Editor's note 7/18/22: New union petition and unfair labor practice charge percentage increases updated to a correction released by the NLRB on July 15.

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