Reported by Ian Kullgren for Bloomberg Law.
Several large US unions saw double-digit growth in 2022 at the same time employers were weathering a tight labor market and a wave of worker dissatisfaction, according to a Bloomberg Law analysis of new federal filings from the previous calendar year.
Annual union disclosures to the US Department of Labor offer the most detailed look yet at how labor groups have flourished—and struggled—in the post-pandemic economy. More than 50 groups that filed membership and financial disclosures in the past month reported a collective net membership increase of 3%, slightly higher than what the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January, though the results vary by industry.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters reported gaining 206,000 members, an increase of 20% from the previous year. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union added 3,200 members, an 11% increase, in the middle of contentious contract talks with port operators. And Workers United—the group responsible for organizing Starbucks Corp. workers—clocked 7,400 new members in 2022, a 10% gain, the DOL documents show.
Gains and losses may be overstated in the aggregate numbers. Some unions belong to federations that also must submit federal disclosures, meaning their members would be counted in both filings. But the data paint an optimistic picture for unions, with 26 of the 52 groups surveyed reporting membership gains.
The United Auto Workers added 11,000 members, a 3% increase over the previous year, in part by winning a historic first vote in a US auto battery plant in Lordstown, Ohio.
Both the UAW and the Teamsters are heading into major contract negotiations later this year with the Detroit automakers and UPS, respectively.
Unite Here added nearly 40,000 hospitality workers, a gain of more than 18%, after losing nearly all of its members at the height of the pandemic.
And one new union, the eponymous Adult Performance Artists Guild, reported 1,366 members in its first-ever filing.
Not Quite a Comeback
Other labor organizations weren’t so lucky. The Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen lost 3,300, or 5.6%, of its members. The International Longshoremen’s Association, which represents workers at East Coast ports, lost 3% of its membership even as its counterpart on the West Coast, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, grew by 11%.
Union density nationwide fell to a historic low of 10.1% last year as nonunion jobs grew at a 4% clip, double the rate of union jobs.
The biggest drop in overall membership hit the Strategic Organizing Center, which lost a third of its members—1.2 million people—when the Teamsters pulled out of the group under new President Sean O’Brien. The center, which came about when several unions left the AFL-CIO in 2005, conducts research and helps unions organize new populations of workers.
Another federation, the AFL-CIO Transportation Trades Department, added 128,000 members, a 19% increase.
Federal data doesn’t capture all the challenges workers face, union supporters say. Many new unions—including those at Starbucks Corp., Amazon.com Inc., and Apple Inc.—have won representation elections but none of the outlets has reached a first contract.
“We’re now seeing that an organizing victory is not a guarantee,” said Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union.
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