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The union ranks had a very good 2022. It's not for the reason you think.

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New York

Unions have just had one of the best years in terms of membership growth so far this century. But high-level organization wins at Starbucks, Amazon and Apple stores are just a small part of that success.

A hiring boom from several already unionized employers led to an increase of 200,000, or 1.3%, in unionized workers, to a total of 16 million. That was the biggest gain since 2015, according to statistics released Thursday by the Labor Department.

There was an even bigger jump in the number of workers who are union payers – an additional 273,000. This represented the biggest increase since 2008, bringing the total to 14.3 million. (Some workers in unionized workplaces choose not to belong to the union, accounting for different totals.)

“There has been an increase in organization. But that’s not enough to explain much of the change,” said Alexander Colvin, dean of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “Much of the increase was the return of jobs lost to the pandemic in major unionized industries.”

Still, union members made up just 10.1% of workers last year, down from 10.3% in 2021. In 1983, when the Department of Labor started tracking numbers, that percentage was around 20. %.

Workers voted to unionize an Amazon distribution center in 2022. However, this and other high-profile union victories in the year were not the main factor behind a jump in union membership during the year.

But there is no denying that 2022 was a very good year for union organizing.

A CNN analysis of statistics kept by the National Council on Labor Relations, which oversees representation votes at most companies, shows that unions won elections at 995 companies last year, the results of which were certified by the council. This was nearly double the previous year’s 575 wins.

But these newly unionized workplaces had a total of 50,256 workers eligible to vote in these elections. While that’s significantly higher than the 25,821 workers at the companies where unions won votes in 2021, it wasn’t enough to move the needle by itself.

A significant number of these successes have occurred at Starbucks locations, where the NLRB has certified pro-union votes in 261 stores. These stores had 6,656 employees, an average of just over 25 per store.

The two largest union votes of 2022 – by graduate assistant professors at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Boston University – resulted in 7,000 new workers joining.

“What’s significant about the organizing campaigns at Starbucks and Amazon is not that they produced big numbers, but the potential they have for bigger numbers in the future,” Colvin said.

The attention that each company’s campaign is receiving is important to generate “momentum” for union activity.

The biggest gains came from the addition of 102,000 new unionized workers in the leisure and hospitality areas.

While 19,000 of these new unionized jobs were in restaurants and bars (helped, in part, by the Starbucks campaign), a much larger gain of 62,000 jobs came from companies in the arts, entertainment and recreation areas. These were mostly in theaters and sports venues that struggled with limited capacity and fewer jobs for much of 2021, but are back in business in 2022.

The other unionized jobs added in the leisure and hospitality sector were in hotels and other accommodation as travel rebounded strongly during the year.

Manufacturing of durable goods such as cars, planes and appliances added 76,000 union-represented jobs, and transportation and warehousing added another 46,000. Most jobs in the transportation industry are likely to be in the heavily unionized passenger airline industry in the United States.

“The strong hiring numbers exist because of past organizing efforts in these areas,” said Todd Vachon, professor of labor studies at Rutgers University. “It’s important to have a union, so when workers come back, they come back to good jobs.”

Almost half of unionized workers across the country are employed by different levels of local, state or federal government. government rather than business, although the private sector employs nearly six workers for every government worker.

Overall, the public sector lost a total of 12,000 union jobs last year due to the decline in union jobs at the federal and local government levels.

But state governments created 99,000 union jobs during the year, likely at state colleges and universities, Colvin said, which account for nearly half of overall state jobs.

“People think that university jobs are teachers, but there are lots of other employees in schools – staff for cafeterias and residence halls and staff for the campus land,” he said. Many schools that operated with remote learning in 2021 reopened their campuses in 2022. Many states also found their budgets high enough to add staff in other parts of the state government, he said.

Still, even with these significant jumps in membership, the percentage of unionized workers has dropped, because there have been even more gains in non-union jobs.

US employers created the second-highest number of jobs on record in 2022, trailing only the job recovery that occurred when the economy emerged from the pandemic in 2021.