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Why Ohio is seeing a rise in union membership

Whereas nationwide statistics show steady decline in union membership
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Posted at 10:30 AM, Sep 04, 2023

CLEVELAND — While the United States has seen a steady decline in union membership over the past 40 years, Ohio saw a slight increase in membership of around 50,000 in 2022 compared to 2021.

Data shows how Ohio saw an increase in union membership from 596,000 in 2021 to 641,000 in 2022.

"Workers have taken stock of their lives and put two and two together and they need some sort of collective power at the workplace," Tim Burga, President of the Ohio AFL-CIO, said.

Burga represents 700,000 members across Ohio and points to Gen Z as the most favorable generation when it comes to unions.

"Younger workers are valuing life-work balance," he said. "They see if they have a collective voice they can have better influence on their scheduling, for example."

Burga adds Ohio is seeing a lot of federal investment when it comes to infrastructure, fueling unionization across the state in sectors such as advanced manufacturing, biomanufacturing, construction, and new energy economy work.

Newly released data from the AFL-CIO shows that voters under 30 showed the highest support for unions and strikes.

Labor Day, a federal holiday, honors the American labor movement. Right now, about 15 million Americans are part of a union, which amounts to about 10% of the workforce.

While bargaining occurs behind closed doors, the work many unions do can be seen and heard louder than one person’s plight for better pay and benefits.

"The union membership rate was 10.1 percent in 2022, down from 10.3 percent in 2021," the Bureau of Labor Statistics website points out. "The 2022 unionization rate (10.1 percent) is the lowest on record. In 1983, the first year for which comparable data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent."

From air traffic controllers to Starbucks employees and even those who broadcast the Cleveland Guardians baseball games, new unions are forming across Northeast Ohio.

Outside Southeast High School in Ravenna last month, teachers waited outside as they fought for a new contract and threatened to strike days before kids returned to the classroom.

"This is not where we want to be but we felt like it was necessary," Monica Kiskadden, a spokesperson for the Southeast Education Local District Teachers Association, said. "A lot of us are single-income supporting families and they’ve made us come down to a moment where you think, 'Is it my students or is it my family?' And no teacher no person should be put in that situation."

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Teachers at Southeast High School in Ravenna cheer as a passing car honks its horn in support during contract negotiations last month.

Just hours after News 5 stopped by, the months-long back and forth came to an end with an agreement made between teachers and the district for the next three years.

"We didn’t realize the community support we had," Kiskadden said,

Donovan O’Neil with Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group, sees the perceived growth a little differently.

O'Neil told News 5 that workers are at a turning point right now and union growth nowadays is often fueled by union self-interest, not by protecting its members.

"Unions are starving for new membership," he said. "They're looking for new industries, new places to plant their flag, increase their membership, ultimately increasing their contribution and retain the influence they once had but are losing."

"As a government teacher, 10 years ago, I would have said no, [unions are not stronger today,]" Kiskadden said. "But seeing Amazon, Starbucks, and these people saying we want a collective bargaining unit. I think it feels stronger than ever."

Clay LePard is a special projects reporter at News 5 Cleveland. Follow him on Twitter @ClayLePard or on Facebook Clay LePard News 5

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