According to new data from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), union election filings have increased in recent months, offering concrete evidence that the labor movement is on the rise.
Between October 2021 and March 2022, union filings increased by 57 percent, up to 1,714 from 748 over the same period last year. Unfair labor practice charges have also increased by 14 percent, the labor board reports, from 7,255 to 8,254.
The data confirms what labor organizers have already noted: there has been a marked rise in workplace organizing over the past year or so. Previous research found that workers logged over 3.2 million strike days last year, and that there was an increase in strike activity in October, which labor advocates deemed “Striketober” –- but last year was the first year for which researchers compiled that data, so there was no baseline to compare it to.
Roughly 180 of the filings over the first half of the 2022 fiscal year were from Starbucks workers; other movements like that of unionizing graduate students at schools across the country have also been experiencing a surge over the past year.
The NLRB says that the increase in the agency’s workload is evidence that the agency is in dire need of more funding. Both major political parties have neglected to raise the agency’s budget for nearly a decade, meaning that the agency has effectively lost about 25 percent of its funding over the past 10 years when adjusted for inflation.
The lack of funding has resulted in consequences for the agency. The NLRB’s overall staffing has decreased by 39 percent since 2002, while its field staffing has been cut in half. General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo says that this has made it increasingly difficult for the agency to operate — thus also making it hard for the labor board to arbitrate charges against employers and process election filings.
Underfunding has contributed to a sharp decline in staffing, falling disproportionately on the Field Offices, which are responsible for handling elections and unfair labor practice charges. Overall NLRB staffing levels dropped 39% since FY02 and field staffing has shrunk by 50%. pic.twitter.com/1gq5a0yEZI
— NLRB General Counsel (@NLRBGC) April 6, 2022
“Right now, there is a surge in labor activity nationwide, with workers organizing and filing petitions for more union elections than they have in the last ten years,” Abruzzo said in a statement. “This has caused a significant increase in the NLRB’s caseload, and the Agency urgently needs more staff and resources to effectively comply with our Congressional mandate.”
“While our dedicated board agents continue to process petitions and conduct elections, investigate and prosecute statutory violations, and obtain remedies for victims of unfair labor practices, the NLRB needs a significant increase of funds to fully effectuate the mission of the Agency,” Abruzzo continued.
Some agency staff blame members of both major parties for the funding decrease. Democrats are currently in charge of Congress, meaning that they have the power to appropriate more funds to the labor board — but they haven’t made moves to do so.
“They have full control; there’s no excuse. I don’t think appeasement [of Republicans] has worked,” New York NLRB field attorney and staff union president Michael Bilik told HuffPost in March. “If this was a priority then they would do something about it, that’s the bottom line. Republicans are more resolved to destroy this place than Democrats are to save it.”
President Joe Biden has requested $319.4 million in funding for the labor board for fiscal year 2023, a 16 percent increase over the $274.2 million that the agency has received for nine years. The increase will help ease some strain for the agency, but “will not fully address staffing needs,” the agency said in a press release.
Research by the Economic Policy Institute shows that the agency is responsible for far more workers now than it has been in previous years, despite having less funding. The number of private sector workers per full time NLRB employee has increased from roughly 75,000 workers per employee to over 112,000 workers per employee as of 2019.