New Study Reveals Growth in Private-Sector Union Organizing, With New York City Playing a Leading Role.
State of the Unions 2022
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Report Author: Ruth Milkman, 310-871-3055
New Study Reveals Growth in Private-Sector Union Organizing,
With New York City Playing a Leading Role.
NEW YORK, NY — New York City leads the recent uptick in private-sector union organizing at companies like Starbucks and Amazon. A new report released by the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, State of the Unions 2022: A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State, and the United States, analyzes new union membership and union election wins across the nation’s major cities. The report also details the geographic, demographic, and occupational makeup of union membership in New York City, New York State, and the nation.
“The new wave of labor activism reflects several recent developments,” said report co-author Ruth Milkman, Distinguished Professor at the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies and the CUNY Graduate Center. “The pandemic spotlighted the injustices faced by ‘essential workers’; public support for labor unions increased to the highest level in decades; and a new generation of college-educated Millennials and Gen-Zers is actively organizing unions.” She added that the labor shortage has played a role, reducing the risks to workers involved in unionizing.
The recent growth of organizing and unionization, however, has not reached a scale insufficient to reverse the long-term downward trend in private-sector union density. Labor unions represent only 6 percent of private-sector workers nationally, and only 12 percent of those in New York. Employer opposition to unionization remains fierce, and U.S. labor law enables employers to use a variety of tactics to delay both union recognition and contract negotiations. The 2022 uptick in U.S. unionization is modest relative to the U.S. workforce, which numbers over 160 million. It would have to spread far more widely to move the needle in either New York or the nation. “While this recent surge of labor activism has invigorated overlooked workers and the U.S. public in general, it hasn’t yielded a total number of newly organized workers large enough to impact either the nation’s or New York City’s overall level of private-sector union density,” noted Joseph van Der Naald, co-author of the report and a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center.
New York’s Leading Role
More workers were newly unionized in New York City from January 2021 to June 2022, as a share of the labor force, than in any of the other urban areas shown in Figure 1 below. New York City also leads the nation in the share of all organizing efforts that resulted in union recognition during this period, as Figure 2 shows. New York City’s private-sector unionization rate has been roughly double the national average for many years now.
The report also notes that while public and media attention has focused disproportionately on unionization efforts at iconic companies like Amazon, Apple and Starbucks, extensive organizing has also occurred in other private-sector settings during the 2021-22 period, as Figure 3 reveals.
Both in the City and in the nation, many of the unions listed in Figure 3 have been actively organizing non-unionized workers for decades – long before the recent surge of labor activism.
The growth of private-sector union organizing in cities across the United States has generated extensive media coverage of organizing at high-profile companies like Starbucks and Amazon. Yet, as this report shows, any significant resurgence will require much larger-scale efforts.
About the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies
The School of Labor and Urban Studies (CUNY SLU) is the 25th school at The City University of New York. It offers undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs in Labor Studies and Urban Studies that are designed to meet the needs of working adults as well as traditional-age college students.
SLU’s vision derives from its core values: access to education, diversity at every level, social justice, and equality for all. Its goals are to expand higher education opportunities for workers; prepare students who aspire to careers in public service and movements for social justice; promote civic engagement; provide leadership development opportunities for union and community activists; and help workers achieve greater economic security. For more information visit www.slu.cuny.edu.
State of the Unions 2021
Data Shows the Pandemic’s Employment Impact Was Smaller for Unionized Workers, Especially Unionized Women and Mothers
The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns generated vast job losses across the United States. The New York City metropolitan area, where the pandemic’s impact was felt earlier than elsewhere in the country, suffered severe job losses in 2020. The decline in employment among women workers was greater than among men — in sharp contrast to the Great Recession, which hit men’s employment harder. A new report released today by the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies, State of the Unions 2021, A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State, and the United States, presents data on gender, union membership, and job losses in the COVID-19 economic downturn on the New York metropolitan area labor market. The report also includes an in-depth look at the geographic, demographic, and occupational makeup of union membership in New York City, New York State, and the nation, updating previous reports in this annual series.
State of the Unions 2020
New Study Illustrates the Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic on New York City Workers and Union Members
The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on labor markets worldwide. In the U.S., millions of workers have been furloughed or laid off in both unionized and non-union sectors. New York is no exception. In the early phases of the pandemic, New York City was the national epicenter due to its high population density, extensive reliance on public transportation, high rates of poverty and poor access to health care. The initial delays in responding by government officials, as well as the limited availability of testing, compounded these problems. An estimated 6,000 working age (18-64) New Yorkers have died from COVID-19, among nearly 24,000 in the city’s population. Although unionized workers were less likely to lose their lives to the virus than the general workforce, for some unions and sectors the impact has been devastating. CUNY SLU’s annual State of the Unions 2020, A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State, and the United States, presents data on confirmed COVID cases and deaths, as well as layoffs and furloughs, among members of some of New York City’s largest unions as of July 2020, and analyzes the pandemic’s effect more broadly on New York’s labor market. Read the full report here.
A Transit Workers Survival Story
And for an in-depth look at how the pandemic is impacting union workers, read this piece on Terence Layne, an MTA bus driver and former SLU student.
State of the Unions 2019
New Study Shows that Organized Labor Remains Far Stronger in New York City and State than in the Nation, but Union Erosion Contributed to Disproportionately Low-Wage Job Growth
Ten-years after the Great Recession of 2008, employment has rebounded in New York City and New York state (the unemployment rate was 4.0% for the state in July 2019). However, this job growth has been disproportionately concentrated in low-wage industries, especially in the private sector, according to a report released by the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies. The report, State of the Unions 2019, A Profile of Organized Labor in New York City, New York State, and the United States, conducted annually, reveals that in recent decades, losses in union membership have been disproportionately concentrated in the private sector, a trend that accelerated after the Great Recession. By contrast, in the public sector, union density has been relatively stable in the City, while declining slightly over the past few years in the U.S. and New York State.
See the report here.