Oh You Can’t Scare Me, I’m Sticking to the Union: NLRB Union Elections Trend, 2012–2016

I took a look at NLRB RC election data for the last 5 years for fun. The number of elections held pretty steady for most years in the 1,200’s range, with a sizable bump in 2015 to over 1,400. This may be because of the shorter election time period rules that started in April 2015, which is midway through FY 2015. Of course it would then be hard to explain the drop in elections afterwards, and we’ll have to see if that continues. The Median Bargaining Unit was fairly constant in the mid 20’s throughout.

However the Median Days to Election dropped dramatically in FY 2015 and FY2016 because of the election rule changes, from high 30’s to low 20’s, about 2 weeks shorter, and the win rate rose significantly from the mid 60’s to the low 70’s. It makes sense that shorter election times may have helped the win rate since it gives employers less time to campaign against a union yes vote, which is standard in nearly every election.

An analysis last year of several months of elections before and after the change found that the median time dropped from 38 to 24 days and that “elections that were resolved within 24 days went the union’s way 88 percent of the time in 2014, and 75 percent of the time in 2015.” With more elections conducted in a faster time, the overall win rate should certainly rise.

Are there other reasons for the higher win rate? Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the shorter election time is entirely responsible for the increased win rate. Here’s a very rough calculation on the impact. The average win rate for FY2012 through 2014, before the rule change, was 65% and the win rate for 2016, after the change, was 72%. This 7% increase in win rate multiplied by the 73,982 total workers eligible to vote in union elections in 2016 leads to about 5,000 more workers who became union members.

It seems that the Labor Movement is getting better at winning elections, and the shorter time period probably helps. But unions continue to organize small bargaining units.

Of course most of this will probably get worse in the next few years under Trump.


Labor Movement Researcher, Activist, Campaigner, Organizer, Educator, Writer & Socialist, based in New York City. @EricDirnbach