The number of U.S. workers seeking union representation has grown notably over the last few months, according to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
"During the first six months of Fiscal Year 2022 (Oct. 1–March 31), union representation petitions filed at the NLRB have increased 57% — up to 1,174 from 748 during the first half of FY2021," the independent federal agency stated in a press release. "At the same time, unfair labor practices also rose 14% — from 7,255 to 8,254."
Starbucks partners (as employees are known) at more than 180 locations have filed a petition to unionize under Starbucks Workers United — an organization affiliated with Service Employees International Union — and ten stores have successfully voted to unionize. The coffee giant, which is working to improve workplace conditions without widespread unionization, also faces over 80 unfair labor practice cases.
Amazon warehouse workers marked their first union victory in the company's 28-year history on April 1, signaling a sense of optimism and enthusiasm around union organizing, especially among younger workers.
How the NLRB operates with unions
Employees, unions, or employers can file unionization petitions through the NLRB, which in turn says that those workers are asking the NLRB to conduct an election to distinguish if employees at that workplace want to be represented by a union.
The NLRB investigates the petitions, and if the agency finds it to be "meritorious," then they conduct an election that allow workers to decide whether or not they wish to be represented by a union.
As for an unfair practice charge, those can be filed by anyone in the public with the NLRB if they believe an employer or union has violated the National Labor Relations Act. The agency will then investigate the charge and issue a complaint, absent settlement, if the regional director finds ground for the alleged claims.
According to the NLRB, the increase in cases comes at a time when the agency is dealing with the lack of critical funding and staffing shortages. Even so, the agency has received congressional help of $274.2 million for nine consecutive years while costs have been increasing.
The agency said that adjusting for inflation, the NLRB budget sits at $205.6 million, a decrease of 25% since FY2010. At the same time, the agency also faces staffing concerns with staffing levels dropping 39% since FY2002 and field staffing shrinking by 50%.
Aid could soon be coming: In President Biden's budget, the administration is requesting $319.4 million for the NLRB — a 16% increase that would help start modernizing the agency’s technology infrastructure but would not fully address staffing needs, the NLRB stated.
More than three-quarters (77%) of the NLRB’s budget goes directly to staffing costs, according to the NLRB's Congressional Budget Justification report.
“Right now, there is a surge in labor activity nationwide, with workers organizing and filing petitions for more union elections than they have in the last ten years," NLRB General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo stated. "This has caused a significant increase in the NLRB’s caseload, and the agency urgently needs more staff and resources to effectively comply with our congressional mandate."
Abruzzo added that while board agents "continue to process petitions and conduct elections, investigate and prosecute statutory violations, and obtain remedies for victims of unfair labor practices, the NLRB needs a significant increase of funds to fully effectuate the mission of the agency."
Dani Romero is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter: @daniromerotv