Five Winners (and Four Losers) in a Banner Year for Union Organizing

Opinions may differ on the impact that the National Labor Relations Board’s April 2015 rule changes have had on the representation election process. But since our annual NLRB Election Statistics Year-End Report for 2015 has just been released, let’s set that issue aside for the moment and see 2015 for what it was: A very busy year for union organizing at the NLRB.

The board held 1,628 representation elections last year—a five-year high. And unions won 1,128 of them—a ten-year high. Unions prevailed in 69.3 percent of NLRB elections in 2015. That’s down slightly from a year earlier, but still the second-highest win rate since we started keeping records more than 20 years ago.

Still, a lot of union wins don’t necessarily lead to a lot of unionized workers. Labor victories at the NLRB yielded about 62,000 newly organized workers in 2015. That’s below average for the past decade, and the second straight annual decline in total workers organized. So it wasn’t such a big year for big bargaining units.

The truth is, our year-end stats reveal that there were plenty of winners and losers at the NLRB in 2015. Here’s a quick rundown.


AFL-CIO Affiliates. 2015 was good to rival federation Change to Win as well, but it was a great year for the AFL-CIO, which organized more workers than CTW for the first time since 2007. The AFL-CIO’s 560 union wins was its highest total since the schism that led such large unions as the Teamsters and SEIU to form CTW more than a decade ago.

Independent Unions. Meanwhile, unions not affiliated with either coalition continued chugging along, boasting the most elections won since 2008 and the most workers organized since 2003.

Service Workers. Among unions, the Teamsters and SEIU have finished 1-2 in union wins every year, going back at least to the 1990s. But while the Teamsters typically manage to stay just on the plus side of the break-even line year after year (their 58 percent win rate in 2015 was a six-year best), the service workers fare much better. For the second straight year, SEIU won 77 percent of their elections. What’s more, SEIU successfully organized 78 percent of workers who were up for grabs in 2015, compared with only 46 percent for the Teamsters.

New York Unions. For the first time since 2011, labor won more elections in New York (182) than in California (162). These are usually the top two states in union wins year after year. At the opposite end of the organizing spectrum stands South Dakota: no elections, no victories in 2015. (Or in 2014, for that matter.)

White Collar Organizers. Standing out among industries was the finance/insurance/real estate industry sector, which was the setting for 53 union wins out of 62 total elections in 2015. That’s more wins than the last two years combined, and the largest total on record for the industry.


Blue Collar Organizers. For the fifth year in a row, unions in the manufacturing industry lost more than they won in 2015. Their 86 wins amount to about one-eighth of the labor win total in the services industry. Construction unions also saw their win total decrease for the fifth straight year. Ten years ago, construction unions won 272 elections. In 2015, they won just 36.

Steelworkers. The rising labor tide of 2015 did lift the boats of many building trades unions—electrical workers, machinists and engineers, for example—but not all of them. USW’s total wins, win rate and total workers organized all declined from a year earlier. (It’s worth noting, however, that 2014 was an unusually good year for the Steelworkers.)

Small Employers. The smaller the potential bargaining unit, the greater the union’s chance of succeeding in an NLRB election. That’s been the case every year, and 2015 was no exception. Of elections involving fewer than 50 workers, labor prevailed 73 percent of the time, compared to 62 percent for mid-size units (50-99 workers) and 59 percent for larger units. Compounding the advantage is the fact that these smallest elections account for seven out of every 10 that the NLRB holds.

Unionized Employers.  Not only was 2015 an easy year to join a union, it was a tough year to leave one. Even though decertification elections typically go the employer’s way (61 percent of the time in 2015, for example), the number of union wins—and the number of workers they saved from de-unionization—actually increased in 2015, bucking a five-year trend of steady declines. In fact, unions lost only 113 decertification elections in 2015—an all-time low.

For more stats, visit our website to order a copy of NLRB Election Statistics Year-End 2015 Report.