Union Membership Grows
This year’s government report on union membership showed an increase of 273,000 members across the nation in 2022 a relatively modest gain that nevertheless carries significance. It’s also worth noting that some of last year’s landmark organizing efforts aren’t showing up in the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers yet because workers are still fighting for a first contract. Even when there’s a pro-worker administration in Washington, it’s usually difficult to win a traditional organizing campaign. That’s true even when there’s overwhelming support for unionization within a potential bargaining unit.
I won’t repeat the details as to why that’s the case, but the short version is that our nation’s various labor laws are either badly outdated or rarely enforced, or both. Corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars every year to stop workers from joining unions, often illegally. That’s why the AFL-CIO and its affiliates, including the SIU, continue pushing for enactment of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act, which will hold union-busting companies and organizations accountable and give workers the negotiating power they deserve. Those bills will help ensure that anyone who wants to join a union on the job can do so.
Meanwhile, a report released by the National Labor Relations Board late last year found that in fiscal year 2022, union election petitions increased by 53% from the previous year. And, as you may know, according to a recent Gallup poll, union approval is at its highest level in nearly 60 years, with 71% of Americans supporting labor unions. Studies show that 70% of hourly workers say they would join a union if given the opportunity.
These are positive trends, and our movement must and will capitalize on them. The SIU will continue working with Congress and the administration and the rest of the labor movement to make it happen.
Manpower and Recruiting
As I’ve mentioned more than once recently, both the union and our affiliated school are heavily engaged in efforts to improve and expand our recruiting strategies.
The U.S. maritime industry, like so many others, is dealing with a shortage of workers. Recent data from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce shows there are more than 10 million job openings across the country, but only around six million unemployed workers. This means that if everyone who wanted to work did in fact find a job, there would still be four million openings.
Additional data shows that there are three million fewer Americans participating in today’s labor force compared to three years ago (before the pandemic).
While there isn’t a once-size-fits-all answer, we are ramping up and refining our approaches for in-person and online recruiting. And I’m confident we’ll meet the challenge, sooner rather than later.
Saluting Great Work
We are in the midst of a noteworthy stretch for our union – one that includes multiple rescues, generous philanthropy, contract gains, and major improvements at one of our hiring halls. These developments don’t happen without terrific work by our rank-and-file members, dedicated leadership from our officials, and strong working relationships with our contracted operators. Collectively, they’re good examples of why I’m so proud of the SIU.
Lastly for this month, I’d be remiss in not praising the respective work of two longtime colleagues: Jim Given, who recently retired as president of the SIU of Canada, and Jack Gallagher, head of the SARC, who passed away following a brief illness.
Jim worked as hard and as passionately as anyone I’ve ever met. He earned immense respect not only in Canada but on the global maritime stage, where he regularly went to bat for the world’s mariners. He did a great job and will be missed. I wish him well in his retirement, and I also offer our unwavering support for, and confidence in, the new administration.
The same is true of Jack and his work, as reflected by the tremendous outpouring of appreciation that followed his death. He made such a positive difference in so many lives, and he’ll always be part of our legacy. May he rest in peace.
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