Feb 3, 2023 - News

Workers "fired up" despite dip in union representation

Share of wage and salary workers represented by unions, 2022
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Union representation dropped slightly in California last year, but the Golden State still has one of the highest rates of represented workers in the country, according to federal data.

What's happening: The share of California workers represented by unions slightly declined from 17.8% in 2021 to 17.6% in 2022, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  • Yes, but: California's percentage of workers with union representation — 17.6% — ranks as the nation's fifth highest, trailing behind states like New York and Washington.

The big picture: Union support hit near-record levels last year, with high-profile organizing at Amazon and Starbucks grabbing headlines. Yet union membership nationwide hit an all-time low last year, Axios' Emily Peck and Nathan Bomey write.

  • Despite an increase of 273,000 new unionized workers in 2022, union membership as a share of the workforce is at an all-time low, according to January data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Zoom in: California has been home to a handful of labor struggles over the past few months.

  • In September, hospitality workers at San Francisco International Airport went on a three-day strike that resulted in higher wages.
  • In November, the University of California academic workers staged the largest strike of 2022 in an effort to obtain labor contracts with fair pay and better benefits. That same month, workers at the Alamo Drafthouse New Mission movie theater announced their intent to unionize.
  • Last month, workers at Bay Area coffee chain Peet’s Coffee voted to unionize with the Service Employees International Union, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Meanwhile, the California Labor Federation launched Unionize California last year in an effort to increase union membership throughout the state.

What they're saying: Workers in California, especially those in the hospitality industry, "are fired up and ready to organize unions at an unprecedented level," Ted Waechter, a spokesperson with hospitality union UNITE HERE Local 2, told Axios via email.

  • Waechter pointed to pandemic-related layoffs, loss of healthcare and now inflation energizing workers to form unions.

But, but, but: Union election petitions were up 53% between October 2021 and September 2022, but unfair labor practice charges also increased 19%, according to the National Labor Relations Board.

What we're watching: Whether last year's dip was an anomaly and if increased support for unions elsewhere will result in a larger representation of union members in California.

  • In the Bay Area, Waechter said he expects workers will keep organizing for better jobs because "it's not getting any easier to live" here due to the increasing cost of living.

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