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Organized Labor’s Resurgence?

September 2, 2022

By Michael Burns, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

As we approach Labor Day 2022, the media (and most likely the Biden Administration) will be heralding organized labor’s resurgence as it has done at this time of the year for decades. Jarret Skorup’s Labor Unions Are Not in a “Resurgence” points out the media’s annual labor-fest prognostication with a short listing by year of articles announcing labor’s alleged comebacks heralded over two decades.

“Labor’s Labors Not Lost – How the Movement Has Sprung Back to Life” Steven Greenhouse, New York Times, May 12, 1996

Labor, Revitalized With New Recruiting, Has Regained Power and Prestige” Steven Greenhouse, New York Times, Oct. 9, 1999

What’s Behind Resurgence of Unions?” David Broder, Washington Post, Sept. 4, 2000

The America Labor Movement and the Resurgence in Union Organizing” Kate Bronfenbrenner, Cornell University, Jan. 1, 2003

Breakaway unions plotting strategy of labor’s resurgence” Will Lester, Associated Press, Aug. 27, 2005

Social Justice & The Next Upward Surge For Unions” Judith Stepan-Norris, American Sociological Association, Spring 2015

The Resurgence of Teacher Unions” Arlene Inouye and Jackson Potter, Summer 2019

The article provides the reality of organized labor’s resurgence so far in a Bureau of Labor Statistics Chart showing that actual union memberships decline over time as a percentage of the total labor force. Union membership (including government union membership) is at 10% of the total U.S. labor force. Remove the government/public unions, and the private sector union rate is just 6%. Organized labor has a long way to ever get close to the 30% membership level it enjoyed in the 1950’s and 60’s.

Does this mean union-free employers that wish to stay that way should relax? Not at all. This is the time union-free employers should be asking themselves about their current employee relations practices. As we regularly hear today, unions are engaged in more organizing than in past years. Starbucks, Amazon, and don’t forget the United Auto Workers organizing campaigns across the south are all evidence that union organizing is ongoing.

One other significant force is in play this time around more than in the recent past. The Executive Branch of the federal government has put its full attention to changing law and regulation in favor of organized labor. President Biden seems to miss no chance to tout organized labor. Currently the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is in the process of changing the case law that supports its enforcement activity. This agency’s mission is supposedly labor peace. However, to the NLRB, the mediation of labor piece today means more unionization.

And legislatively, the Protecting the Federal Right to Organize Act (PRO) would amend the NLRA, radically changing current labor law to;

  • Prevent employer communication with their own employees about the realities of being in a union
  • Eliminate right to work laws in 27 states, including Michigan
  • Shorten the length of time employers have to talk with their employees about the implications of unionization before an organizing vote
  • Allow the NLRA to fine employers for alleged violation of labor law – up to $50,000 for every violation of labor law and $100,000 for repeat violations
  • Would broaden the definition of employee, supervisor, and employer to broaden who may be considered covered by the NLRA
  • Would protect an employer’s workers that strike in response to a labor conflict (secondary strike) that is prohibited today
  • Reclassify independent contractors as employees

And much more.

Employers that take being union free for granted may be awakened in short order. The best way to maintain employer freedom from unionization is to have a positive employer-employee relations program in place. What is positive employer-employee relations practice?

Ensure you are training your front-line supervisors and managers in proper principles and practices of supervision. An employer’s supervisors are its weakest link against union organization. If they are not listening to workers, or worse yet, mistreating them, they give a union organizer the perfect doorway to  getting the worker’s ear.

Previous to this year, employers could get away with a 3% annual pay increase and keep up with the market. Not so anymore. Employers will need to make sure pay keeps up with consumer price increases, which are increasing quickly. Do not let your compensation (pay and benefits) fall behind the market.

Lastly and most importantly, have a conduit to hear what your workers are concerned about. This should be your supervisors but also can be a regular opinion survey that asks employees about their concerns. If you conduct surveys of employee opinions and attitudes, do not ignore the information. The worst thing an employer can do is ask for feedback and then not respond to it.

ASE provides supervisory training including two new labor relations classes. ASE membership provides up-to-date compensation data as well as effective employee engagement tools so our members can stay ahead of union organizing in their operations.

Though unions may be on the rise, ASE members can suck the organizing oxygen out of the air and ensure third parties are not interfering with their employee relations.

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