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Unions on the rise in post-pandemic surge

Union representation petitions across the country have surged during the first nine months of fiscal year 2022, as employees at places like Starbucks in West Hartford have increasingly sought and won union representation.

According to a press release from the National Labor Relations Board, union representation petitions in 2022 increased by 58 percent over the previous year and by May of 2022, exceeded the total number of petitions received in all of 2021.

“A representation petition is filed by employees, unions, or employers with an NLRB Field Office to have the NLRB conduct an election to determine if employees wish to be represented by a union,” the press release states. “The Field Office investigates the petitions and, if meritorious, conducts an election to allow employees to decide whether or not they wish to be represented by a union.”

Notably in Connecticut, employees at two Starbucks venues – one in West Hartford and one in Vernon – filed petitions with the NLRB to hold union votes. West Hartford was the first Starbucks in Connecticut to successfully unionize, followed by a location in Vernon, but may not be the last.

According to a press release by the CT AFL-CIO, 280 Starbucks locations across the country have filed union petitions. This year also saw the first successful union vote at an Amazon warehouse facility in Staten Island, although Amazon is contesting the results.

Union membership nationally has been on the decline for decades, but the COVID-19 pandemic may have hit the reset button as inflation skyrocketed and employees, particularly those who deal with the public face-to-face in lower income jobs, found themselves contending with a virus, an irritable public and wages that fell short.

The mass layoff of workers during the pandemic shut down and their slow return to the workforce has left employers with labor shortages and titled the playing field toward workers.

Also on the rise, according to the NLRB, is the number of unfair labor practices charges in which either the union or the employer is accused of violating the National Labor Relations Act. The number of unfair labor practice charges increased by 16 percent during the same time frame.

During the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers in the General Assembly passed a new law restricting Connecticut employers from holding mandatory meetings with employees regarding unionization efforts, a practice labor leaders call “captive audience” meetings and claimed employees were subject to intimidation by employers to dissuade them from unionizing.

The bill, which had been pushed by union leaders for a decade, was passed over concerns that it may violate the National Labor Relations Act. The Connecticut Business and Industry Association, which opposed the measure, labelled it a “gag order” on Connecticut businesses.

Abruzzo wrote in the press release that influx of union petitions and unfair labor practice claims has left the NLRB hurting for more people and funding from the federal government.

“The NLRB is processing the most cases it has seen in years with the lowest staffing levels in years with the lowest staffing levels in the past six years,” wrote NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo. “The Agency urgently needs more resources to process petitions and conduct elections, investigate unfair labor practice charges, and obtain full remedies for workers whose labor rights have been violated.”

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Marc E. Fitch, Senior Investigative Reporter

Marc E. Fitch

Marc worked as an investigative reporter for Yankee Institute and was a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow. He previously worked in the field of mental health is the author of several books and novels, along with numerous freelance reporting jobs and publications. Marc has a Master of Fine Arts degree from Western Connecticut State University.

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