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Tracking the New Wave of Worker Organizing with Data: 3 Facts We Learned from a New Collaboration

Across the country, workers are organizing with their co-workers and engaging in collective action to gain improvements in their jobs and workplaces. What can we learn from these recent organizing efforts? How do they fit in the broader history of worker organizing in the United States? And how can the Department of Labor support worker organizing to advance our mission of improving working conditions for all workers?  

To answer these questions, the department is collaborating with the Worker Empowerment Research Network, a group of leading labor researchers. The Network is conducting independent research on worker organizing and collective bargaining. Through this collaboration, the department can ensure that researchers understand the department’s work and priorities. Department employees will also evaluate and use new findings and insights about worker organizing and union representation to inform our own priorities, like supporting the work of the Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, chaired by Vice President Kamala Harris and vice chaired by Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh. 

The Network research team has been pulling together a comprehensive picture of various forms of worker activism, taking stock of recent workplace organizing efforts and identifying their implications for workers and working conditions. Three data points in particular stand out from this work and tell the story about how workers lack the collective voice they want on the job — and how they’re translating that voice gap into new collective action and union organizing.  

1. The wide voice gap at work: Drawing from a nationally representative survey of workers, the researchers summarized how large majorities of worker — well over half of workers for many issues — report a “voice gap” at work, meaning they have less say over working conditions than workers want.  

As the figure below indicates, the workplace voice gap is especially large on some traditional workplace issues, like benefits, compensation, safety and promotion, but also extend to respect, protection against abuse and harassment, how technology is used and employers’ values. These survey results reveal that current workplace arrangements do not provide workers with the  meaningful, collective voice  they seek. The results echo the findings of other research showing millions of workers would choose union representation if given the chance, and particularly young workers and workers of color

Percent of Workers Who Say That They Do Not Have Enough Voice On A Given Issue Data Chart.
Source: Thomas A. Kochan et al. 2019. “Worker Voice in America: Is There a Gap between What Workers Expect and What They Experience?” Industrial and Labor Relations Review: 72(1): 3-38. 

Chart data below

2. An increase in recent worker strikes and protests: Faced with the collective voice gap described above, many workers are engaging in strikes and protests across the country. The new Worker Empowerment Research Network report summarizes data from the Cornell Industrial and Labor Relations School Strike Tracker, which details strikes and protests in 2021 by the type of demand workers were making. The table demonstrates that while better pay and benefits were the most common issues leading to a strike or protest, many of the other causes or demands in 2021 reflected other issues that workers faced, including COVID-19 protections and other health and safety issues, staffing and scheduling.  

Recent Worker Strikes and Protests Data Chart.
Source: https://striketracker.ilr.cornell.edu/  

Chart data below

3. The surge of new union elections: Not only are workers striking and protesting to gain greater collective voice over workplace issues, they are also filing petitions seeking formal union representation. In recent months we have seen a surge in the organizing of new units, as reflected in the figure below tallying new election filings and the number of workers participating in those elections. Representation election petitions at the National Labor Relations Board are up 57 percent from the same time period a year ago – a significant increase that shows workers’ interest in union representation. Understanding the causes and consequences of this increased organizing is important for the department given how important unions are for boosting worker voice and working conditions, especially for historically marginalized and excluded workers

Number of Union Filings in a Quarter by Union Size Data Chart.
Source: NLRB data analyzed by unionelections.org  

Chart data below

These three figures show how we can learn from data to improve our understanding of workers’ demand for a collective voice on the job – and how workers are translating that demand into concrete steps for collective representation.  

At the department, we are eager to continue learning about important issues related to worker voice, organizing and representation from this collaboration to inform how we implement our mission, including through the Worker Organizing Task Force. Stay tuned for more articles on how new research is informing the department’s work. We will feature this research on DOL's forthcoming Worker Organizing Resource and Knowledge Center, a new online resource center for providing information to workers, employers, agencies, researchers, educators, students and others about unions, collective bargaining and worker organizing.  

Alex Hertel-Fernandez is deputy assistant secretary for research and evaluation at the U.S. Department of Labor.  

Lynn Rhinehart is senior counselor to Secretary Walsh at the U.S. Department of Labor. 

Chart data:

 
% workers who say that they do not have enough voice on a given issue
Benefits 62
Compensation 62
Promotion 57
Job Security 55
Employee Respect 54
Abuse Protetions 52
New Technologies 52
Employer Voices 50
Discrimination Protections 49
Training 49
Ways to Improve How to Do Work 48
Quality of Product 47
Safety 45
Resolve Problems/Conflict 43
Hours 41
Scheduling 39
Ability to Choose How to Do the Job 35

 

Chart data:

Type of Demand 

Work Stoppages 

Approximate Number of Workers Involved 

Better pay 

160 

59,730 

Health care 

65 

33,298 

Health- and safety-related issues 

63 

12,815 

Staffing-related 

39 

9,249 

Improved COVID-19 protocols 

29 

7,060 

Job security 

23 

11,757 

Retirement benefits 

20 

21,620 

Union recognition 

19 

1,332 

Scheduling issues 

19 

7,133 

First contract 

14 

3,767 

Racial justice 

11 

452 

End to sexual harassment 

528 

$15 minimum wage 

81 

 

Chart data:

 
Quarter Voters For Voters Against Units for Units Against Total Voters Total Units
4/1/2000 26,964 37,699 420 419 64,663 839
7/1/2000 21,707 29,218 332 324 50,925 656
10/1/2000 21,310 27,568 337 327 48,878 664
1/1/2001 13,619 26,400 288 264 40,019 552
4/1/2001 17,742 31,020 346 309 48,762 655
7/1/2001 13,950 38,171 319 278 52,121 597
10/1/2001 17,013 28,069 278 280 45,082 558
1/1/2002 11,171 20,341 267 237 31,512 504
4/1/2002 24,271 27,028 380 291 51,299 671
7/1/2002 14,362 24,499 360 298 38,861 658
10/1/2002 16,794 37,213 328 304 54,007 632
1/1/2003 12,049 16,063 263 205 28,112 468
4/1/2003 17,642 19,023 364 272 36,665 636
7/1/2003 14,724 14,333 316 222 29,057 538
10/1/2003 14,229 18,812 270 224 33,041 494
1/1/2004 16,312 17,479 250 225 33,791 475
4/1/2004 20,177 21,018 354 265 41,195 619
7/1/2004 14,107 21,622 316 230 35,729 546
10/1/2004 11,975 18,175 276 207 30,150 483
1/1/2005 11,654 15,990 269 190 27,644 459
4/1/2005 17,444 22,835 391 220 40,279 611
7/1/2005 13,505 13,582 252 187 27,087 439
10/1/2005 8,707 9,685 258 159 18,392 417
1/1/2006 13,230 11,972 210 140 25,202 350
4/1/2006 12,490 17,309 250 153 29,799 403
7/1/2006 9,006 10,052 224 161 19,058 385
10/1/2006 14,679 10,087 215 137 24,766 352
1/1/2007 10,150 9,273 181 135 19,423 316
4/1/2007 11,122 13,012 225 182 24,134 407
7/1/2007 12,087 10,039 208 141 22,126 349
10/1/2007 13,516 11,820 212 155 25,336 367
1/1/2008 12,925 6,415 225 110 19,340 335
4/1/2008 19,765 14,721 288 178 34,486 466
7/1/2008 10,861 10,068 225 141 20,929 366
10/1/2008 17,697 9,330 246 130 27,027 376
1/1/2009 7,393 4,767 189 87 12,160 276
4/1/2009 12,941 5,121 207 96 18,062 303
7/1/2009 8,305 7,965 189 103 16,270 292
10/1/2009 12,235 7,254 232 142 19,489 374
1/1/2010 9,517 9,674 225 116 19,191 341
4/1/2010 16,701 7,815 292 140 24,516 432
7/1/2010 16,613 8,854 262 140 25,467 402
10/1/2010 17,074 12,892 255 177 29,966 432
1/1/2011 12,321 5,736 193 91 18,057 284
4/1/2011 9,700 10,113 192 121 19,813 313
7/1/2011 10,916 6,869 175 93 17,785 268
10/1/2011 13,976 8,617 205 114 22,593 319
1/1/2012 10,360 8,186 179 123 18,546 302
4/1/2012 10,610 11,278 209 124 21,888 333
7/1/2012 8,959 7,391 194 112 16,350 306
10/1/2012 7,653 8,217 181 124 15,870 305
1/1/2013 6,689 5,478 174 83 12,167 257
4/1/2013 10,794 12,272 224 134 23,066 358
7/1/2013 9,829 8,146 199 126 17,975 325
10/1/2013 9,947 9,227 219 117 19,174 336
1/1/2014 7,414 7,884 173 93 15,298 266
4/1/2014 13,232 6,759 254 116 19,991 370
7/1/2014 9,385 7,818 227 107 17,203 334
10/1/2014 14,246 9,049 244 123 23,295 367
1/1/2015 9,389 8,805 222 100 18,194 322
4/1/2015 15,527 13,379 311 154 28,906 465
7/1/2015 12,453 6,686 234 121 19,139 355
10/1/2015 10,835 7,435 223 115 18,270 338
1/1/2016 13,091 7,079 230 101 20,170 331
4/1/2016 15,011 6,166 258 99 21,177 357
7/1/2016 10,056 6,568 220 89 16,624 309
10/1/2016 13,657 7,354 185 103 21,011 288
1/1/2017 10,230 11,454 197 115 21,684 312
4/1/2017 11,805 9,931 246 92 21,736 338
7/1/2017 11,331 10,275 247 102 21,606 349
10/1/2017 11,341 9,871 208 92 21,212 300
1/1/2018 7,493 5,567 179 91 13,060 270
4/1/2018 17,965 6,512 205 99 24,477 304
7/1/2018 5,399 4,226 148 64 9,625 212
10/1/2018 12,764 7,968 176 76 20,732 252
1/1/2019 8,555 4,797 178 55 13,352 233
4/1/2019 12,374 6,235 237 87 18,609 324
7/1/2019 9,963 5,672 217 90 15,635 307
10/1/2019 12,460 5,657 223 76 18,117 299
1/1/2020 5,398 3,659 141 66 9,057 207
4/1/2020 4,408 2,701 100 32 7,109 132
7/1/2020 8,253 5,236 148 81 13,489 229
10/1/2020 8,456 7,408 144 85 15,864 229
1/1/2021 5,723 2,446 126 52 8,169 178
4/1/2021 10,218 4,395 179 79 14,613 258
7/1/2021 5,974 3,574 144 76 9,548 220
10/1/2021 6,389 5,917 172 84 12,306 256
1/1/2022 5,820 10,824 150 100 16,644 250
4/1/2022 9,419 17,207 178 148 26,626 326

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