The Resurgence of Unions: Why Now?

May 20, 2022

Following years of declining unionization rates, the United States is experiencing a significant resurgence of labor unions throughout the country. Between October 2021 and March 2022, union representation petitions filed at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) skyrocketed 57% compared to the same time last year. Approval of labor unions amongst the general public is also at the highest point in almost sixty years. A recent poll found that a whopping 68% of Americans support labor unions, the highest rate since 1965.

Even some of the country’s largest companies that have never been unionized before are now seeing employees trying to form labor unions. Notably, over the past year, 54 individual Starbucks locations voted in favor of unionizing after employee complaints of poor treatment, underpayment and lack of proper training. Similarly, just last month, an Amazon warehouse in New York City voted to form the company’s first labor union. A vote is also slated in early June for Apple’s first labor union.

The question then becomes: why are companies like Starbucks, Amazon and Apple all of a sudden facing union organization campaigns? The answer is fairly simple. The resurgence of labor unions across the country can be primarily attributed to the following three factors:

1.)   The COVID-19 Pandemic.

First, it is no surprise that the pandemic has completely shifted people’s perceptions of work/life balance and revolutionized the workplace. Now, as the data shows, employees are wanting more flexibility in their working conditions, better work benefits and more independence in their positions.  Second, employees in the retail, food and beverage industries worked through the entire pandemic as essential workers, and now have begun to demand higher pay and better working conditions. In fact, data from the NLRB shows that nearly 28% of new union petitions this year are from food services and accommodation workers, a large increase since the start of the pandemic. Third and finally, the pandemic has prompted a general wave of activism. People appear to be more likely to speak up than ever before, with many employees using social media or other digital platforms to communicate complaints.

2.)   The Political Atmosphere.

Employees are empowered to unionize by the current political climate. President Joe Biden is an outspoken supporter of labor unions, even promising to be the most pro-union president this country has ever seen. With a president in office who supports and encourages their efforts, unions are emboldened to organize.

3.)   The Media.

In recent months, the media has taken a significant interest in the resurgence of labor unions. The media attention given to employees unionizing, whether they are successful or not, may have led other employees across the country to follow suit. For example, employees at an Apple store in Georgia, who are currently pursuing unionization efforts, stated that they were inspired by Amazon employees who tried to unionize a warehouse in Alabama.

Union organizing is on the rise and there is no sign that this will change any time soon. Stay tuned for a follow up article from KJK on ways employers can combat this unionization trend. If you have any questions or would like to discuss the resurgence of labor unions any further, please contact Labor & Employment Partner Rob Gilmore (RSG@kjk.com; 216.736.7240).