Nearly 80,000 federal employees joined unions in a year, White House says


Nearly 80,000 federal government employees joined a union between September 2021 and September 2022, a roughly 20 percent increase, a White House task force announced on Friday. The task force, led by Vice President Harris, attributed the increase to recommendations it had laid out to make the federal government a model union employer for the rest of the country.

A list of 70 recommendations put forward last year have resulted in “significant results” for union organizing, both in and outside government, the task force said. Those include closer cooperation between the Office of Personnel Management and other federal agencies to inform workers of their existing rights to join unions and a “Know Your Rights” campaign led by the Labor Department to educate workers nationwide about their union rights.

The White House task force has also ensured that new jobs created or supported with federal grant funding, such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Inflation Reduction Act and the Chips Act, respect the right of workers to unionize, it said.

Despite the rise in unionized workers, however, federal government employment overall fell by 20,000 workers between September 2021 and September 2022. Moreover, overall union membership in the United States has continued its long fall, dropping in 2022 to 10 percent of the total workforce. While higher in the public sector, membership has fallen there as well, dropping to 33 percent last year.

The White House announced last February that 300,000 federal government workers were eligible to join unions but had not. And even as the total number of union members grew in 2022, the labor movement could not keep up organizing efforts at the same pace as overall growth in the economy, which added 5.3 million new jobs last year, with nonunion jobs growing at a faster rate than union positions.

The task force joins the other pro-labor initiatives from President Biden, who has promised to be “most pro-union president” in American history. Biden has met often with union members and leaders, while his administration has scored wins for unions, including installing a fierce advocate for workers to lead the National Labor Relations Board and passing legislation that he has said will create well-paying union jobs.

But at times during his leadership, Biden has drawn ire from organized labor, facing backlash last fall after he asked Congress to force a deal between railroad unions and carriers that did not offer workers any paid sick days.

The task force also announced that as a result of its recommendations, four federal agencies, the Departments of Defense and Interior, the General Services Administration, and the Office of Personnel Management had all agreed to make it easier for private sector workers to organize on federal property, including, for example, concessions workers at national parks. Union organizers often face difficulties accessing private sector workers who work in federal government buildings or on federal property during union campaigns.

Separately, the Department of Homeland Security, through the Transportation Security Administration, has circulated information to major airports for allowing union organizers and representatives to access airport property. Such a move could help airport restaurant staff, lounge attendants and retail workers join unions amid an ongoing push by major unions to organize airport workers.

Biden signed the executive order setting up the task force, which includes cabinet officials and senior administration advisers, several months into office in 2021. Its goal is to help the executive branch better use its existing authority to help workers join unions and promote collective bargaining.

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