“Labor Day” was first recognized on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City as a “working man’s holiday.” By 1885, this day was celebrated in several industrial cities. The first state to enact Labor Day as a legal holiday was Oregon in 1887, followed by several other states. On June 28, 1894, Congress passed a law designating the first Monday of September as a legal holiday to honor America’s workers.
Over the years, Labor Day has turned into an analysis of the state of labor unions. As we approach Labor Day 2015, for the first time in several years unions are optimistic about their future.
One reason for Labor’s optimism is the results of a Gallup Poll released on August 17, 2015. The poll showed that the percent of Americans who view labor as positive had increased by 5% from 2014, to 58% overall. Gallup conducted its first poll about these attitudes in 1936. The lowest point of public approval of unions was 48% in 2009.
Within the poll, the greatest cause for union optimism is how unions are viewed by 18 to 34 year old employees. That age group approves of unions at the highest level compared to any other demographic (66%), followed by those 55 and older (58%). Though unions have struggled to reach employees ages 18 to 34, this demographic is more receptive to the message unions present than any other demographic subsection. One explanation for the positive impression that young people hold about unions is that Labor’s aggressive social and environmental platforms resonate with the widely-held beliefs of this demographic. However, a generally positive view of unions does not correlate to an individual concluding that she or he needs a union at the workplace.
Unions are also optimistic about the April 14, 2015, changes to NLRB election procedures, which substantially reduced the amount of time from the filing of a petition to election. In FY 2014 (ending Sept. 30, 2014), unions filed 2,053 petitions for elections. In the first quarter under the new rules, unions filed 619 such petitions, putting them on course to file for almost 2,500 elections this year, a twenty percent increase in the number of election filings. From the petitions filed during this three month window under the new rules, 374 elections have been held. Unions won 262 of those elections, for a 70% win rate, exceeding the 67.66% win rate for FY 2014. The Union withdrawal rate in these elections is hovering at 26%, another improvement for Unions over the 28.5% withdrawal rate in FY 2014, and the previous five year average withdrawal rate of 30%.
These election procedures are the “new normal.” We do not expect litigation efforts to overturn these rules to succeed.
While unions have reason for optimism this Labor Day, there remain concerns about their vitality. For example, during the past several years the United Food and Commercial Workers Union has mounted a multi-million dollar effort to unionize Wal-Mart. Despite publicity and money, the UFCW did not gain one member from its efforts, and plans to reduce the amount of time and expense it allocates to the Wal-Mart efforts. Further concern is that only 45% of the employees in the South think favorably of unions, compared to 67% in the East, 66% in the Midwest and 59% in the West. Unions will continue to have difficulty organizing the auto and aircraft manufacturers in southern states. Southern employees understand that a union-free environment was one of the factors to attract these manufacturers.