A red Starbucks cup with white evergreen trees. On Strike! is on the label.
Starbucks workers at Crocker Park and a store on Royalton Road in Strongsville say they plan to strike on Thursday. They are joining workers across the country protesting that the company has not reached a contract with the Starbucks Workers United union. Credit: Jeff Haynes / Signal Cleveland

The percentage and number of workers in Ohio belonging to unions increased in 2022, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Thursday.

Last year, 12.8% of workers in Ohio belonged to unions. In 2021, 12%  were union members.

Ohio had the third largest increase in union membership nationally last year, according to an analysis of BLS data by the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. About 699,000 Ohio workers were union members in 2022, an increase of 52,000 workers. Only California, with an increase of 99,000 union workers, and Texas, which added 72,000 union members, posted larger gains.

The percentage of Ohio workers belonging to unions continues to be higher than the national average. Only 10.1% of U.S. workers were union members in 2022. In 2021, it was 10.3%. The 10.1% rate is the lowest since BLS started doing the report in 1983 with comparable data. Back then, the rate was 20.1%.

“This report confirms what many of us have known for a long time: that more and more workers want to join a union and are resilient in their fight to do so,” Dan O’Malley, who heads the North Shore AFL-CIO Federation of Labor, said in an email to Signal Cleveland.

O’Malley described many labor laws, including those governing union organizing, as “outdated and counterproductive.” 

Between October 2021 and September 2022, the National Labor Relations Board saw a 53% increase in union elections petitions, the highest single-year increase since fiscal year 2016.

Economic Policy Institute

“Congress must pass the PRO [Protecting the Right to Organize] Act and give every worker the opportunity to freely exercise their basic right to join a union,” he wrote.

O’Malley has said that union organizing is a priority for the North Shore Federation of Labor. There have been recent high-profile union organizing efforts locally, including those by Starbucks workers who have voted to be represented by the Workers United union at five Cleveland-area stores. Workers at REI Co-op, the outdoor and fitness equipment store in the Pinecrest  development in Orange Village, have petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to vote on joining a union. Both are part of a national trend of workers opting to organize.

“Between October 2021 and September 2022, the National Labor Relations Board saw a 53% increase in union elections petitions, the highest single-year increase since fiscal year 2016,” states the EPI news release.

The Economic Policy Institute analysis of the federal report’s data showed where union membership growth had occurred nationally. 

“Industries with the largest increases in unionization in 2022 were transportation and warehousing (+46,000), arts, entertainment, and recreation (+62,000), durable goods manufacturing (+76,000), and state government (+99,000),”  the EPI news release states.

The federal report showed that union members, on average, are paid more than their nonunion counterparts. The median weekly wage for union members in the United States in 2022 was $1,216, versus $1,029 for nonunion workers.

While the percentage of workers in the United State belonging to a union slipped in 2022, the actual number of people belonging to unions increased by 273,000, or 1.9%, according to the BLS. However, the increase was outpaced by the jump in the total number of wage and salary workers, which grew by 3.9%.

The union membership report uses data from the Current Population Survey, a monthly survey based on a sample consisting of 60,000 U.S. households. 

Economics Reporter (she/her)
Olivera, an award-winning journalist, covered labor, employment and workforce issues for several years at The Plain Dealer. She broke the story in 2013 of a food drive held for Walmart workers who made too little to afford Thanksgiving dinner. Olivera has received state and national awards for her coverage, including those from the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. Olivera believes the sweet spot of high-impact journalism is combining strong storytelling with data analysis.