According to reporting by NPR in December 2022 and The Conversation in January 2023, unions won more than 70 percent of representation certification elections in 2022. In fiscal year 2022, 2,510 petitions for union representation were filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) between October 1, 2021 and September 30, 2022. This number is up 53 percent from FY 2021, when it was 1,638. In FY 2022, 1,249 representation certification elections actually occurred, with workers voting to unionize 72 percent of the time.
Large scale union activity took place at Starbucks, which held 354 union elections, this number being more than a quarter of all union elections held. Workers at Starbucks prevailed in four out of every five elections. Workers at Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, and Apple unionized for the first time, while workers at Microsoft and Wells Fargo also had wins. These trends make sense in light of labor history, as union activity most often spikes in times of societal upheaval. During the Great Depression from 1934 to 1939, the percentage of American workers in a union rose from 7.6 percent to 19.2 percent, while during World War Two between 1941 and 1945 it rose from 20 percent to 27 percent.
Labor activity—including unionization efforts and strikes—was up in 2022, compared to preceding years. The NLRB tracked twenty large work stoppages that involved more 1,000 workers in 2022, four more than documented in 2021, and 25 percent more than the average number of large work stoppages during the past 16 years. Since 2021, Cornell University has tracked all labor actions, counting, according to The Conversation, 385 strikes in 2022, up from 270 in 2021.
The general public is growing more favorable towards unions, perhaps contributing to these trends. Seventy-one percent of Americans now support unions according to Gallup—a level of support not seen since 1965. This may have something to do with the income of the top 0.1 percent growing 465 percent between 1979 and 2021, while the income of the bottom ninety percent only grew 28 percent during that period, according to research by the Economic Policy Institute.
While higher than in the recent past, union activity is still relatively low in historical perspective. In the 1950s more than a third of workers were unionized, whereas in 2021 only 10.3 percent were. Prior to the 1980s, there typically were more than 5,000 union elections in any given year and as recently as 1980 there were 200 large work stoppages.
As of January 12, 2023, no corporate outlets have comprehensively reported about the significant increases in union activity in 2022. However, Yahoo republished The Conversation’s article, and some corporate outlets, such as Vox, Bloomberg, and the Washington Post reported on related figures in mid-2022, but have not yet followed up on the story.
Marick Masters, “Worker Strikes and Union Elections Surged in 2022–Could It Mark a Turning Point for Organized Labor?,” The Conversation, January 5, 2023.
Andrea Hsu and Alina Selyukh, “Union Wins Made Big News This Year. Here Are 5 Reasons Why It’s Not the Full Story,” NPR, December 27, 2022.
Student Researcher: Annie Koruga (Ohlone College)
Faculty Evaluator: Robin Takahashi (Ohlone College)