Home Food and Recipes You won’t believe how membership in labor groups has skyrocketed in NJ

You won’t believe how membership in labor groups has skyrocketed in NJ

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The Food and Commercial Workers Local Union 1262, which represents members employed by supermarkets, including ShopRite, Stop & Shop, Foodtown, Fresh Grocer, Acme, Food Bazaar, Dearborn Market, Morton Williams, Tops Markets and others, continued its reign atop the NJBIZ Labor Unions list in 2023 (see page 16), even with an 8.38% decrease in membership year over year. Despite the dip, with 24,591 New Jersey members, the UFCW 1262 was still well ahead of the pack.

With its increase in participation, however, the second-place organization followed the overall trend from participants of adding members in 2023.

At No. 2 on this year’s list was Teamsters Local Union 177 – representing workers north of Monmouth County across sectors including freight drivers and warehouse workers – with 16,266 New Jersey members. Though well behind the list’s frontrunner, Teamsters Local 177 had the largest increase in year-over-year membership with a more than 12% jump.

Other notable increases were posted by Food and Commercial Workers Local Union 360 (up 8.31%), Unite Here Local Union 54 (up 7.89%), Teamsters Local Union 125 (up 7.49%) and the Food and Commercial Workers Local Union 464 (up 7.39%).

Though No. 1-ranked UFCW 1262’s drop was significant, in terms of the list, it was not the largest membership decline. Teamsters Local Union 97 held that dubious distinction, recording a 10.33% decline from 2022 to 2023 for a total 6,532 members in the current year. That change resulted in one of the few rankings upsets on the list, with Laborers Local Union 472 gaining one place to No. 8 in 2023, as a result. Electrical Workers IBEW AFL-CIO Local Union 827 also posted a decrease, falling 6.35% year over year to a current 3,116 members.

Of the 25 groups listed, 17 recorded increases from 2022 to 2023.

National picture

New Jersey is a leader nationally when it comes to union participation. A report from the Labor Education Action Research Network (LEARN) at Rutgers University found the Garden State was among the top of the pack, compared with others.

The state was sixth for union density in the U.S., according to the report, trailing neighboring New York as well as Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and Minnesota. Overall, LEARN pegged New Jersey’s unionization rate at 16.09%, based on the 2019-2021 average.

The authors cited 1953 as organized labor’s highwater mark, nationally, when 35% of workers belonged to a union.

The Roundup

Recent labor relations developments from around the state:

“New Jersey is still a union state,” LEARN Director Todd Vachon, an assistant professor in the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations, said in a statement when the report was released in 2022. “We’ve always had a high unionization rate among teachers, police officers, firefighters, and construction workers. That hasn’t changed. But after the pandemic and two years of worker unrest, we’re seeing a resurgence in labor organizing in the service industry, with younger workers at the forefront.”

In August, a Succasunna Starbucks became the fifth location of the coffee giant to unionize in New Jersey, voting to organize with Service Employees International Union. The other union shops are located in Hamilton, Summit, Montclair and Hopewell. As of the summer, according to Starbucks Workers United, more than 360 stores had unionized nationwide, representing the most formed in a 12-month-period for any company in the U.S. over the past two decades.

In July 2022, workers at the Lyndhurst Medieval Times voted to form the first union in the Texas-based company’s history. Since then, a location in California has followed suit. Upon the New Jersey union election with Medieval Times Performers United, American Guild of Variety Artists highlighted the larger moment for labor.

“We are excited to have won our union and grateful for the solidarity shown by our coworkers. The guidance and assistance of AGVA’s staff and members was instrumental in getting us through this process, and we are proud to join AGVA and the broader labor movement,” Medieval Times Performers United said at the time. “Additionally, we couldn’t be more thankful for the outpouring of support we received from those outside of Medieval Times.”

Most recently, the group scored another win when a trademark lawsuit against AGVA and a collection of unionized workers, filed by Medieval Times for using the company name in the union’s moniker, was dismissed in federal court. U.S. District Judge William Martini described the company’s theory as “entirely conclusory” in a late September opinion dismissing the lawsuit.

Who’s who

According to the LEARN report, in the long-term, the organized labor outlook depends on the ability of union membership to take hold in the private sector. As of its publication, New Jersey’s private sector unionization (at 8.3%) was higher than the national average, though the authors characterized the figure as “low” in the grand scheme.

Public administration (52%), transportation and utilities (33%), education and health services (29%), and construction (24%) are the most unionized industries in New Jersey, the report found. Among occupations, education instruction and library (53%), protective service (48%), installation, maintenance and repair (33%), and production (25%) occupations had the highest unionization.

When it comes to what workers are taking home, LEARN researchers found that union members earned 21% higher wages than non-union workers throughout the pandemic. To compile the findings, researchers analyzed 36 months of federal data, covering January 2019-December 2021.

“These stats do not account for the full range of factors that may shape wage differences across occupations and demographic groups, but they suggest the ‘union wage premium’ remains impactful,” the authors wrote.

Hundreds of nurses began a strike at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick on Aug. 4. - USW LOCAL 4-200
About 1,700 nurses, represented by United Steelworkers 4-200, began a strike at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick on Aug. 4. – USW LOCAL 4-200

On average, the research found that full-time workers earned 10% more than their non-union counterparts while part-time workers earned 53% more.

The report found that Black workers earned more than 25% more than their non-union counterparts. According to LEARN, private sector construction workers make over 30% more with a union while service sector workers make nearly 11% more. For public sector education and health and protective service workers, wages were up more than 34% when they are unionized.

Women used to hold the majority when it comes to union representation in the state, however the balance between them and men has been reestablished post-pandemic, which the report attributed to women leaving the workforce.

Black union workers (20.84%) represent the largest demographic group in the state – and nearly double the national average – but, again, the report found that representation to be “highly gendered.” Throughout the pandemic, Black men gained 3.65% in union density. Meanwhile, Black women saw a 3.22% drop and Hispanic mothers saw the biggest loss, 7%.

“Unions still deliver the goods in terms of higher wages and better working conditions,” Vachon said. “The research shows that women, people of color, and younger workers see the biggest rise in wages with a union contract. The ongoing labor shortage gives them even more leverage to make demands.”

The awareness around unionization seems to be growing in the state, too, thanks to some high-profile action.

As of press time, 1,700 striking nurses remained on the picket line at RWJBarnabas Health’s Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick, the site of a historic strike at Rutgers University earlier in the year. Meanwhile, Assembly Speaker Craig Couhglin, D-19th District, and other elected officials were set to convene for a legislative briefing Oct. 26 regarding current contract negotiations for 6,500 commercial cleaners in the Garden State with 32BJ SEIU.

With labor front of mind, increases in union participation in New Jersey could stand to build next year, as well. Stay tuned to the 2024 list for more.


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