Union activity continued to increase in the most recent fiscal year, according to new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) data, showing the sustained momentum of the labor movement as workers wage historic strikes.
According to case processing data released on Friday, union filings were up by 3 percent in FY 2023, a period beginning in October 2022 and ending in September 2023. A total of 2,594 union petitions were filed, up slightly from 2,510 in FY 2022.
Though this is a small increase year over year, it is still the highest number of union petitions filed in the past six years after FY 2022 saw a 53 percent increase in union filings over those of FY 2021.
Unfair labor practice filings, meanwhile, increased by 10 percent over the previous year in FY 2023, representing the highest number of case filings since FY 2016, the agency said. In all, 19,854 unfair labor practice charges — which can be filed against employers or unions — were filed in FY 2023, compared to 17,988 in FY 2022. This is the highest number of unfair labor practice charges filed since FY 2016.
The data comes after another banner year for the labor movement in which Starbucks Workers United celebrated the unionization of their 300th store, Hollywood actors and writers waged a historic strike, United Auto Workers (UAW) began picketing for a better contract at automakers across the country, and Kaiser Permanente workers began the largest health care strike in U.S. history.
Though the dramatic increase in union activity over the past two years seems to be slowing, union activity is still strong compared to past decades. FY 2022, for instance, saw an increase in unfair labor practice filings of 23 percent over the previous year, the highest single-year increase since FY 1959.
The labor board additionally observed that its field offices have received 28 RM petitions from employers. RM petitions, once relatively rare, are filed by employers requesting a union election after a majority of workers have shown interest in a union under the labor board’s new rule that it released in August, known as Cemex. The number of RM petitions could show a willingness of workers and unions to take advantage of the new rule, which removes hurdles to union recognition.
Labor board officials said the increase in union activity showed the need for more agency funding. The agency received a modest increase in budget in last year’s appropriations of a mere $25 million — the agency’s first budget increase in nine years.
“Dedicated NLRB employees have continued working hard to increase the Board’s productivity, but the continuing surge in case intake has again increased our year-end backlog,” said NLRB Chairman Lauren McFerran in a statement. “Although the Agency tremendously appreciated the $25 million increase in funding for FY 2023, and used every extra dollar to address critical staffing vacancies and infrastructure needs, additional resources are necessary.”
Because the NLRB received the same budget for nine years, it had actually had a budget cut of 25 percent in real dollars between 2014 and 2022, labor officials said last year. The NLRB’s budget this year was $299 million, but NLRB union members have pointed out that the agency would have a $374 million budget if it had kept up with inflation since FY 2010.
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