NLRB Conducted More Elections in 2015, But Percentage of Union Wins Held Steady

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By Lawrence E. Dubé

March 1 — The National Labor Relations Board conducted about 10 percent more representation elections in calendar year 2015 than it did the previous year, according to NLRB data analyzed by Bloomberg BNA's Research and Custom Solutions division.

The National Labor Relations Board's 2015 data include cases that arose before and after the adoption of amended rules for representation case proceedings.

The NLRB rule changes (RIN 3142-AA08) became effective April 14, 2015, for election petitions filed on and after that date .

A comparison of 2014 and 2015 data suggests the board's revised procedures won't necessarily affect the rate at which employees opt for union representation, but they may affect the strategies of unions and employers in organizing contests.

More Voting, But Some Measures Changed Little

Bloomberg BNA's annual report on election statistics shows the NLRB conducted 1,628 elections in 2015, an increase of 150 elections. Unions won 1,128 of the 2015 elections.

But the union win rate was essentially unchanged last year, moving from 69.5 percent in 2014 to 69.3 percent in 2015.

Unions organized 61,650 workers through NLRB elections last year, down from 63,737 in 2014. The NLRB statistics do not reflect organizing conducted through voluntary recognition or other dispute resolution methods.

The union win rate in decertification elections rose slightly between 2014 and 2015, from 37.2 percent in 2014 to 38.9 percent last year. In 2015, unions prevailed in 72 of 185 decertification elections held. By comparison, in 2014 unions won 67 of 180 decertification elections.

Clues in Numbers, But Questions Remain

Marshall Babson, a management lawyer and counsel in Seyfarth Shaw LLP, and a former member of the NLRB, told Bloomberg BNA that many employers and management advocates were concerned the board's accelerated election procedures would give unions an unfair advantage.

Babson observed that the Bloomberg BNA report does not show any real change in the union win rate, but it suggests unions may be more confident or more determined about pursuing campaigns all the way to the ballot box.

In 2014, unions filed 2,202 petitions but only made it to 1,478 elections, while in 2015 they reached elections in 1,628 of the 2,233 cases they filed.

For unions to move from a 33 percent rate of petitions that are withdrawn or dismissed before balloting to a 27 percent rate of such cases is “dramatic,” the lawyer said.

Babson also observed that the state-by-state coverage of elections and union wins in the Bloomberg BNA reports shows that even in some states that were once thought inhospitable to successful organizing, unions achieved win rates of over 70 percent and even 80 percent in 2015.

Brian E. Hayes, a former board member who is a shareholder in Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., where he represents employers, told Bloomberg BNA that the NLRB's election case data will not provide “a metric of the success or failure of the new rules.”

Hayes, who dissented from the board's decision in 2011 to amend its representation case procedures, said “success is best measured by the extent to which decisions are fully informed and discussion is open and robust.”

He also said it is critical for the NLRB to ensure that each secret-ballot election takes place in “a bargaining unit that fosters rational and meaningful collective-bargaining.”

Bloomberg BNA requested comments from several union-side attorneys but did not receive immediate responses.

AFL-CIO Unions Won 560 Elections

Unions affiliated with the AFL-CIO won 560 of 935 elections held in 2015, or 67.1 percent, compared with 67.3 percent in 2014.

The unions in the Change to Win federation won 376 NLRB elections, or 64.6 percent of the 582 elections they participated in last year. In 2014, they won 325 of 513 elections, for a win rate of 63.4 percent.

Independent unions, those not affiliated with either labor federation, won 70.6 percent of the 272 elections in which they participated in 2015, compared with 75 percent of 248 elections in 2014.

Teamsters Led in Number of Elections

The International Brotherhood of Teamsters again led all other unions by participating in 384 representation elections in 2015, up from 333 the previous year. The union won 224 elections in 2015, up from 185 the prior year, and the IBT's win rate rose from 55.6 percent in 2014 to 58.3 percent last year.

The Service Employees International Union was the second most active union by participating in 197 elections, winning 152 or 77.2 percent in 2015. The previous year, the SEIU participated in 180 elections, winning 139, or 77.2 percent.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ranked third in 2015, participating in 127 elections and winning 78, or 61.4 percent. The prior year, the IBEW participated in 112 elections and won 66, or 58.9 percent.

Unions participating in the next highest number of elections were the United Food and Commercial Workers, with 114 elections; the International Association of Machinists, with 111 elections; the International Union of Operating Engineers, with 109 elections; the United Steelworkers, with 51 elections; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, with 47 elections; and the independent Security, Police and Fire Professionals of America, with 37 elections.

Operating Engineers Had Highest Win Rate

The International Union of Operating Engineers was the most successful of the unions, winning 78.9 percent of the elections in which it participated in 2015. The SEIU ranked second, winning 77.2 percent of its elections, followed by the International Association of Machinists (76.6 percent).

For the sixth year in a row, the SEIU organized the most workers through NLRB elections—14,732—followed by the Teamsters with 8,196.

Unions had the most successes organizing in the smallest units. Unions won 73.2 percent of the 1,130 elections involving bargaining units of 49 or fewer workers last year, and 61.9 percent of 265 elections in units of 50-99 workers. The union win rate in units of 100-499 workers for 2015 was 58.2 percent of 213 elections.

Unions Scored Wins in Financial Sector

Unions won at least 50 percent of the elections held in all industries in 2015 except manufacturing, in which they won 44.3 percent of elections held.

The industry with the highest share of wins was the finance, insurance and real estate sector (85.5 percent), in which unions won 53 of 62 NLRB elections.

The industries with the next highest union win rates in 2015 were services (77.4 percent), communications (75.0 percent), and health care services (73.8 percent)

To contact the reporter on this story: Lawrence E. Dubé in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at

For More Information

Text of the full report, which includes tables involving elections by industry, unit size and state, is available for $160 per copy online at; by mail from Bloomberg BNA, 1801 S. Bell St., Arlington, Va. 22202; by telephone at (800) 372-1033 (option 5, then option 1) or by e-mail at