In My Opinion…It’s Time to Bring the National Labor Relations Act into the 21st Century

March 21, 2024 | by Beverly A. Williams, Esq., Partner at Wong Fleming

After years of decline in union membership, more than two years of COVID-19 and working remotely, and the impact of the Great Resignation, there is cautious optimism about a resurgence of unionism. The possibility of more union activity, and the negative financial impact that strikes have had on businesses and workers, warrant reassessment of whether business as usual is beneficial to either labor or management.
However, if there is to be a sustainable resurgence of unionism, more than lip service will be needed to embrace all those who seek to move forward to bargain collectively regardless of backgrounds, opinions, and interests. Intentionally and authentically embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion holistically is essential to revitalize the labor movement.

Anticipatory planning, and mandatory, more effective use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) procedures should be adopted whether or not the National Labor Relations Act. (NLRA) is amended. Additionally, working to improve labor-management relationships, and extending the terms of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) leadership in furtherance of agency decision-making stability should be adopted by amendment, rule or regulation.

The vagaries of political elections which result in changes in federal administrations and agencies, and the full-frontal attacks currently on diversity, equity and inclusion are harbingers that call into question whether workforces will continue to reflect the eclectic mosaic of our population. American workers and workplaces are better served when they see people who look like them in administrative and leadership roles in unions, companies, the NLRB and its regional offices.

A review of potential sources of new union members is worthwhile. Significantly, in 2021 the number of female-identifying union members declined by 182,000 to 6.5 million workers. Following a historic trend, at 11.5 percent, Black workers had a higher union membership rate than White workers at 10.03 percent, Hispanic workers at 9.0 percent, and Asian workers at 7.7 percent.¹

From 2020 to 2021, union membership rates declined by 0.4 percent for White workers, by 0.8 percent for Black workers, by 0.8 percent for Hispanic workers, and by 1.2 percent for Asian workers. The 2021 rates for Whites, Blacks, and Hispanics are little or no different from 2019, while the rate for Asians is lower.²

Age is also an important demographic. Workers aged 45 to 54 had the highest union membership rate in 2021, at 13.1 percent. Younger workers between the ages of 16 and 24 had the lowest union membership rate, at 4.2 percent.³

Admittedly, organized labor is now more diverse and broadly based than in the 1950s. In 2018, of the 14.7 million wage and salary workers who belonged to a union, 25 percent were female-identifying, and 28 percent were Black.⁴

Whether unionism will resurge or simply sputter, there is union activity in interesting and surprising areas. Congressional staffers have begun an organization drive toward unionism.⁵ Starbucks employees in Oxford, Mississippi, and reportedly in more than 100 stores nationally have made moves toward becoming unionized.⁶ Apple Store employees are also “quietly” exploring whether to unionize.⁷ More recently, Dartmouth men’s basketball voted to become the first college team to unionize.⁸

Quite simply, as the Writers Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA and other unions have found, there is strength in numbers, and unions know it.

¹ U.S. Bureau of Bureau of Labor Statistics, Economic News Release, Union Members Summary, January 20, 2022.
² 2 Id.
³ Id.
⁴ Editors, History, last updated September 1, 2020, originally published October 29, 2009.
⁵ Rebecca Shabad, Congressional staffers announce effort to unionize on Capitol Hill, THE HILL, Feb. 4, 2022.
⁶ Sara DiNatale, Mississippi Starbucks Workers Want a Union in Oxford, MISSISSIPPI TODAY, Emmerich News, Mar. 7, 2022.
⁷ Reed Albergotti, Some U.S. Apple Store employees are working to unionize, part of a growing worker backlash, THE WASHINGTON POST, Feb. 18, 2022.
⁸ Money Watch, CBS News Updated on: March 5, 2024,

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For additional information, please contact:

Beverly A. Williams

Partner in the Princeton, NJ office of Wong Fleming