Union Organizing 2012 Year End Review, By the Numbers

By Susan Connelly, of PTI Labor Research, Guest Blogger*

We’re already two weeks into 2013. And yet, a look back at the year that passed is a good way to help anticipate union activity in the coming months.

Union organizing in 2012 was relatively slow thanks to the distraction of the presidential campaign. In addition, unions had been waiting for expedited elections and notice postings, for which they are still waiting.

But with the presidential campaign behind us, and private-sector union membership at record lows, the stage might be set for unions to begin bolstering their memberships in 2013.

Union representation petitions have been on a downward slope for the past fifteen years, since a high in 1997 when more than 5,000 petitions (RC) were filed nationally. In 2012, the number of petitions was down to 1,986.

Maps help tell the 2012 story as well. High concentrations of petitions were filed in California, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, New Jersey, Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Massachusetts and Washington. None were “right to work” states in 2012 (a new Michigan “right to work” law passed in December). By contrast, Wyoming had zero filings last year. Wyoming and 23 other states are “right to work” states.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) offices that received the most representation petition filings in 2012 were Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Baltimore, Chicago and Boston.

As usual, the Teamsters topped the list of unions with the most petitions in 2012 with 424 petitions. Behind the Teamsters was the SEIU with 186 petitions followed by the UFCW, IAM and IUOE. 

Unions most frequently targeted the following industries in 2012: Business Services, Health Services, Passenger Transportation, Construction and Electric, Gas & Sanitary Services. This is consistent with organizing trends over the past several decades -- moving towards service sector jobs and away from manufacturing. 

With the introduction of “micro units” in 2012, it is noteworthy that the average bargaining unit size has remained relatively unchanged over the past two decades. The average bargaining unit size for certification petitions in 2012 was 62 employees.

Finally, although the anticipated expedited elections have not yet become a reality, the average number of days between petition filing and election is down slightly. According to the 2012 NLRB Performance and Accountability Report, initial union representation cases were conducted in a median of 38 calendar days from the filing of a petition -- down from 42 days in previous years.

Starting off 2013 with the presidential election behind us and a National Labor Relations Board comprised of all Democratic appointees, it will be interesting to see if unions are able to seize the opportunity, launch organizing drives and reverse the downward trend in petition filings.

The data points above are more than just numbers. For the labor relations professional, they mean: 

  • Those within service sectors and non-right to work states are more vulnerable to union organizing.
  • With bargaining unit sizes ranging drastically, the size of the potential bargaining unit does not seem to have an impact on the likelihood of vulnerability to a petition being filed.
  • Especially with elections occurring more quickly in 2012, it is always advantageous to be proactive in your union organizing counter campaign plan and communications with management and employees.
  • Information that can be shared in updates with executives, management and employees (if appropriate).

* Ms. Connelly is not an attorney. Neither she nor her firm is affiliated with Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, LLP. The opinions and views expressed in this post are her own and not intended to convey legal advice.

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