Efforts to form a new union have surged 58% since Biden became president, federal officials say

  • The national labor agency says it processed over 2,500 petitions to form a new union in the last year.

  • That’s up from fewer than 1,700 petitions in the 2021 fiscal year, an increase of 58%.

  • The agency also saw a 10% uptick in allegations of employer “unfair labor practices” in 2023.

The election of President and a new liberal majority at the federal agency that rules on employer-worker disputes has coincided with a boon in collective organizing.

The National Labor Relations Board announced Friday that petitions to form unions continue to rise following a “dramatic surge” the year before.

In fiscal year 2023, which ended September 30, the NLRB said there were 2,594 union representation petitions filed with its regional field offices, an uptick of 3% from the year before. Compared to fiscal year 2021, when Biden entered office, requests for union recognition are up 58%.

That has to do, at least in part, with who is in the White House.

Since being elected, Biden has often touted his support for organized labor, becoming the first president to join a union picket line when he stood with autoworkers last month. He has also shifted the balance of power at the NLRB, which holds union elections and rules on when employers have broken the law, appointing two of its current Democrats and ensuring its pro-labor contingent is in the majority.

Under Biden, the NLRB has increasingly sided with workers over employers, declaring most severance requirements illegal and ruling that unions displaying a giant inflatable rat known as “Scabby” in front of employers they’re protesting is a protected form of free speech.

In August, the agency also made it easier for workers to form a union, ruling that the recognition of one would be automatic if an employer was found to have engaged in illegal, union-busting activity, such as firing organizers.

At the same time, the NLRB said Friday it has also seen a rise in worker complaints about unfair labor practices, which are defined as illegal attempts by employers to undermine collective organizing. In the last year, the agency said it had received more than 22,400 such complaints, a 10% increase over 2022 and the highest number since fiscal year 2016.

The rise in union organizing — and complaints about employer retaliation — has been accompanied by a massive increase in labor actions. So far this year, there have been at least 311 strikes, according to a database maintained by Cornell University, compared to a total of 279 work stoppages in all of 2021.

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