Experts say private industry unionization efforts being fueled by demand for labor, question how long the movement will last

Published: Sep. 5, 2022 at 12:37 AM EDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - From Starbucks, to Chipotle, to Apple -- front-line employees at some of America’s best-known companies are trying to form unions.

Demands for higher pay, stronger benefits, and better working conditions have drawn praise from some of the fiercest pro-union lawmakers.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told reporters while meeting with Ohio Starbucks employees in July who were attempting to unionize, “This generation of Lou and her colleagues are the most active pro-union, pro-worker generation i’ve seen in my lifetime. They understand that if they are organized into a union, carrying a union card means better wages, better benefits, more control over your work schedule, balancing your life with work. That’s everything in people’s lives.”

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that nearly 34% of public sector employees were part of a union in 2021, that’s compared to just over six percent of private-sector union employees.

Georgetown University history professor Joe McCartin, who studies and writes extensively about U.S. labor history, said this year’s uptick in private-sector unionization efforts is being led by younger employees who worked through the pandemic, and now feel the economy is offering them fallback options if challenging their employers through unionization efforts doesn’t work out.

“I think labor union strength and influence had been waning for many years. This is a moment of opportunity for unions to show that they can be relevant to young workers,” McCartin said. “I think that we haven’t seen anything like this, in the private sector, in a very long time.”

McCartin also said he’s not yet sure whether this year’s efforts are part of a new trend.

In contrast, Peter St Onge, an economist with the conservative Heritage Foundation, said he expects and hopes this year’s uptick is just a blip.

St Onge said, “Most economists now expect a recession next year, so I expect this kind of movement will lose interest if workers don’t feel quite so confident that they can just pull into any parking lot and get a job on the spot.”

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that union employees made more money than non-union employees last year. Meanwhile, overall union participation since 1983 has declined from 20.1 perfect of the workforce to 10.8 percent in 2021.

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