Can The Biden Administration Reverse Decades Of Union Decline?
Federal agencies are working together to remove impediments to unionization.
It is no coincidence that unions have steadily declined over the years.
The decline happened one regulation and court decision at a time, exascerbated by moribund (and occasionally corrupt) union leadership that failed to adapt to changes in the economy, workforce, and workplace.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions continued to decline in 2021, when the total number of union workers fell by 241,000 workers, for a total of 14 million (10.3% of the labor force).
But for the first time in decades, the trend seems on track to reverse.
From October 1 to March 31 of this year, there was a 57% increase in petitions from workers seeking to form unions for a total of 1,174, and a 14% increase in unfair labor charge filings for a total of 8,254.
The Biden administration is actively encouraging federal labor agencies to work together to eliminate impediments to unionization.
The point agency is the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which guarantees the right of most private sector workers to engage in group efforts (including unionization) to improve their wages and working conditions.
Among other things, NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo in April issued a memo to all NLRB field offices announcing she will ask the board to reverse a reqirement to hold mandatory “captive audience meetings” where workers who are considering unioniztion are required to listen to employer’s anti-union arguments.
Abruzzo can make recommendations but binding rulings are made by the NLRB’s five-member (three Democrats and two Republicans) panel, who are appointed by the President.
“This license to coerce is an anomaly in labor law, inconsistent with the [National Labor Relations Act’s] protection of employees’ free choice. It is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of employers’ speech rights,” said Abruzzo.
Needless to say, Abruzzo has become a target of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and pro-business publications like The Wall Street Journal.
However, both Connecticut and Oregon have enacted state laws permitting workers to opt out of captive audience meetings.
NLRB prosecutors this week said Amazon violated federal labor law by forcing workers to attend anti-union meetings at a Staten Island, NY, warehouse where workers were considering unionizing.
Amazon accused the NLRB of applying “inappropriate and undue influence” in favor of the union, which became the first Amazon facility to vote to unionize in the country.
If the parties fail to reach a settlment, the NLRB will issue a complaint that may end up in federal court.
Abruzzo also is working to eliminate a requirement triggering NLRB-supervised secret ballot elections when a union presents the employer with signed authorization cards showing that a majority of the workers want to form a union.
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