Union membership grows, but support still shy of earlier peaks

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Starbucks employees and supporters react as votes are read during a union-election watch party on Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. Starbucks workers voted to unionize over the company’s objections, pointing the way to a new labor model for the 50-year old coffee giant. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)

(NewsNation) — Unionization has recently sprouted up in some of the nation’s largest companies, but union support and influence is still nowhere near what it once was.

The AFL-CIO Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia Tuesday is where more than 50 different unions debate and hammer out resolutions that will help shape the labor movement’s future.

About 2,000 union members, leaders and state and local officials attend the gathering, which is held every four years, and where labor leaders chart strategy.

President Joe Biden has promised to be the most pro-union president, telling the largest federation of labor unions, “We should encourage unions.”

“I’m not just saying that to be pro-union,” he said. “I’m saying it because I’m pro-American.”

The labor federation is composed of 12.5 million workers, and unionization efforts have proliferated recently in some of the largest U.S. companies: Amazon, Alphabet and Starbucks.

It’s important to note that unionization efforts in those large companies have been at the local level.

Starbucks has more than 15,000 stores, so 100 of them being unionized is a drop in the bucket.

But the statistics show unionized workers do tend to make more money.

In 2021, non-union employees’ median weekly earnings were $194 less than union members’.

Biden believes the future of the economy lies in the hands of the working class. And the present … backs him up.

“Wall Street didn’t build this country. The middle class built this country. And unions built the middle class,” Biden said while addressing the convention.

Conditions seem ripe for a renaissance of labor unions. In April, Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island became the first in the company’s history to successfully unionize.

More than 100 Starbucks locations are now union shops.

“We just want to be able to provide for ourselves and our families,” said Siera Moore, who works at a Scottsboro, Alabama, Starbucks, where they plan to file for a union election.

The current job market is great for workers, with nearly two job openings for every unemployed person. One can more reasonably risk a unionization effort when there are other opportunities out there.

From October 2021 to March 2022, there was a 57% increase over the prior year in union election petitions filed with the National Labor Relations Board.

But union support and influence is still nowhere near what it once was.

Unionization in the U.S. at a glance shows:

  • 1983: 20% of the workforce unionized.
  • 2022: About 10% or 14 million people belong to a union.

Union membership reached its high point in the 1940s and 50s and has been slowly waning in the decades since. In 1983, 20% of the workforce was unionized.

Today, about one-tenth of the working population belongs to a union. This is roughly 14 million people and the fewest on record, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But grassroots support is slowly putting power back into the hands of the workers — from coffee shops to stockyards — and the president is sounding his support, saying, “We need an economy built from the middle out and the bottom up, not the top down.”

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