August 31, 2022

Get used to it: Growth in union activity will be around for awhile

After decades of waning influence, U.S. labor is making its presence felt, in a major way.

Union activity has skyrocketed nationwide, from national retail and restaurant chains to distribution centers, to local coffee shops.

Data from the National Labor Relations Board reveal that union representation petitions soared 58% during the first nine months of the fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022), with petitions increasing to 1,892 from 1,197 during the same period the year prior. Petitions in fiscal year 2022 exceeded all of the prior year by May 25, 2022.

Representation petitions are filed by employees or employers seeking to have the NLRB conduct a union election.

The surge nationally is being felt in the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado:

Starbucks workers in Superior voted to join Starbucks Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. Workers at a Greeley Starbucks have also petitioned for an election.

Workers at Brewing Market Coffee, with operations in Boulder, Lafayette and Longmont, have signed union authorization cards to join the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco and Grain Millers Union Local 26.

Employees at Boulder’s Spruce Street Confections LLC have also unionized and are negotiating their first labor contract.

King Soopers workers in some Denver-area locations embarked on a nine-day strike in January.

Nurses at Centura Health’s Longmont United Hospital voted to unionize this year, partly out of concerns related to understaffing.

And journalists at the Loveland Reporter-Herald last year voted to join the NewsGuild-CWA Local 37074.

Nationally, workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island, New York, voted to unionize.

Much of this renewed activity can be traced to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent worker shortages. As some workers retired or left the workforce, those remaining have had to deal with understaffing, long hours, stress, and fears about health and safety.

Worker shortages are being felt in every industry, from the hospitality and service sectors to high-tech occupations, as evidenced by extremely low unemployment rates. It means that workers’ concerns about workplace conditions come with another element: power.

Employers have heightened incentives these days to respond to worker issues, with the cost of replacing workers extremely high (and very difficult in areas with near full employment).

So the unionization efforts that we’re seeing in the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado not only are understandable, but they’re also likely to continue as long as the labor shortage continues.

And they’re likely to manifest with manufacturers, distributors, health care providers, professional services and, yes, even a coffee shop.

Related Content