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Unions Winning More Elections, But Organizing Fewer New Workers

Unions won 72% of all representation elections conducted by the National Labor Relations Board in 2016, and 74% when the election involved a small unit of 49 workers or less, according to a Bloomberg BNA report based on NLRB data. These percentages are a four-year high for unions. At the same time, fewer workers were organized — 57,800 (lowest in four years), down from 63,300 new members in 2015.

The number of NLRB-conducted elections also slipped, from 1,626 in 2015 to 1,381 in 2016. Unions also continue to lose members by decertification elections. Between 2012 and 2016, the NLRB conducted 970 decertification elections. Unions lost over 60% (596 of 970) of them.

As the statistics about the number of workers organized and elections held in 2016 suggest, unions are focusing on organizing smaller bargaining units, which generally are easier to organize. As reported by Bloomberg BNA, Maria Sommer, an organizing director with the Steelworkers Union, “credit[s] an approach of focusing on smaller units of workers . . .,” among other factors. This strategy has been made fruitful, in large part, by a union-friendly NLRB decision – Specialty Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center of Mobile, 357 NLRB No. 83 (2011) — that endorses union organizing of identifiable “micro-units.” This and the difficulties countering a union organizing drive that are posed by NLRB’s “quickie-election” rules, have created significant challenges for employers.

The Teamsters Union has said it is focusing on “internal organizing” designed to “retain[] employees in bargaining units by communicating and educating them about the benefits . . . [of unionization].” However, that strategy may not be working. Between 2012 and 2016, the Teamsters Union was involved in 231 decertification elections and lost 155 – a 67% loss rate. (On the flip side, the Teamsters were involved in more NLRB-conducted elections in 2016 than any other union and won just under 63% of them.) Overall, unions lost 61.4% of all decertification elections held during that time.

The NLRB’s won-loss statistics do not take into account situations where unions filed petitions for elections at the NLRB, but withdrew before the election, or where unions were unable to garner enough employee support to file petitions at all with the NLRB.

Help may be on the way for employers. There are two vacancies on the NLRB that almost assuredly will be filled by President Donald J. Trump with pro-business members. This will create a 3-2 pro-business NLRB majority, perhaps paving the way for a decision, given the appropriate case, overruling Specialty Healthcare. However, the appointment process will take time, and, even following confirmation, change at the NLRB will not be automatic. This means that, as always, employers should focus on their best defense to union organizing — creating an issue-free workplace where employees feel listened-to and well-treated and see no need for union representation.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2020National Law Review, Volume VII, Number 80

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About this Author

Jessica M. Marsh, Jackson Lewis, labor arbitrations lawyer, contract administration matters attorney
Of Counsel

Jessica M. Marsh is Of Counsel in the Minneapolis, MN, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. She is certified as a Labor and Employment Law Specialist through the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Ms. Marsh’s traditional labor experience includes assisting both unionized and union-free workplaces facing union organizing attempts, picketing and/or strike activity, and union election petitions. Ms. Marsh defends employers responding to unfair-labor practice charges at the NLRB Regional Offices and on exceptions to the NLRB. Ms. Marsh also represents...

612-359-1762
Howard Bloom, Jackson Lewis, labor union attorney, unfair practice investigations lawyer, employment legal counsel, bargaining law
Principal

Howard M. Bloom is a Principal in the Boston, Massachusetts, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He has practiced labor and employment law representing exclusively employers for more than 36 years.

Mr. Bloom counsels clients in a variety of industries on labor law issues. He trains and advises executives, managers and supervisors on union awareness and positive employee relations, and assists employers in connection with union card-signing efforts, traditional union representation and corporate campaigns, and union decertification campaigns. He also represents clients at the National Labor Relations Board in connection with bargaining unit issues, objections and challenges, as well as unfair labor practice investigations and trials. Mr. Bloom also has been the spokesperson at countless first and successor contract collective bargaining negotiations, and regularly advises on collective bargaining agreement administration issues, including grievance/arbitration issues.

Mr. Bloom has appeared before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, several U.S. District Courts, the National Labor Relations Board, the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

617-367-0025
Philip B. Rosen Jackson Lewis  Preventive Practices Lawyer & Collective Bargaining Attorney
Principal

Philip B. Rosen is a Principal in the New York City, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. He is a member of the firm's Board of Directors and co-leads the firm's Labor and Preventive Practices Group. He joined the firm in 1979 and served as Managing Partner of the New York City office from 1989 to 2009.

Mr. Rosen lectures extensively, conducts management training, and advises clients with respect to legislative and regulatory initiatives, corporate strategies, business ethics, social media, reorganizations and reductions-...

212-545-4000