Union Representation Increased in Ohio During 2022

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The vote in December by workers to organize at Ultium Cells LLC’s Lordstown battery cell plant mirrors a statewide trend that shows union membership on the rise.

“We’re very optimistic because of the Lordstown project,” said Bill Padisak, president of the Mahoning-Trumbull AFL-CIO Labor Council. “Hopefully, these new industries will bring new people in.”

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that union representation across Ohio grew during 2022 compared with the previous year. 

According to BLS, 641,000 workers in Ohio reported direct union membership in 2022, up from 596,000 in 2021, an increase of 7.5%.

The latest data show that those reporting union membership represented 13% of Ohio’s workforce last year, compared with 12% the previous year.

The total number of workers claiming both union membership and those who report no union affiliation, but whose jobs are represented by organized labor, stood at 699,000 across Ohio, up from 647,000 in 2021 – an increase of 8%, BLS data show.

In 2022, these employees comprised 14% of Ohio’s total workforce, compared with 12.8% the previous year, according to BLS.

“It is exciting to see workers in Ohio represented by unions on the rise,” Ohio AFL-CIO President Tim Burga said in a statement. “It is no coincidence that when there is a pro-union president who invests in union construction, buy American manufacturing and investing in domestic energy policy that more workers will obtain good paying union jobs.”

On Dec. 7 and 8, Ultium’s rank and file voted overwhelmingly to join the UAW during an election at the plant sponsored by the National Labor Relations Board. The vote was 710 in favor of UAW membership, 16 against and one ballot voided.

Ultium manufactures electric-vehicle battery cells for its major customer, General Motors. The $2.3 billion plant began production in August 2022.

The latest statewide numbers do not include the recent vote at Ultium, since no collective bargaining agreement has been signed yet. Negotiations between the UAW and Ultium were to begin in late January.

However, these numbers would include the new TJX HomeGood’s distribution center in Lordstown, said Kathy Hanshew, manager of the Chicago and Midwest Joint Board, an affiliate of the Workers United union.

“I would say, on average, 1,100 are represented at the center,” she said, since the size of the workforce fluctuates depending on seasonal needs. It is the largest entity represented by Workers United in the Mahoning Valley, she added.

Workers at TJX ratified a three-year collective bargaining agreement in June 2021 with 98% approval, and are chartered as Local 3121 with the Chicago Joint Board of Workers United.

The union also represents some workers in the hospitality and industrial laundry sectors in the Valley, Hanshew added.

“If you look at the Mahoning Valley and Ohio’s history, workers really took a beating in the auto and steel industries, and some towns never recovered,” she said. 

The loss of industrial jobs also meant the loss of a large union workforce, Hanshew noted. However, organized labor has since made advances into the service sector and public sector. A milestone moment was the rejection in 2011 of Senate Bill 5 in Ohio – a measure that would have greatly reduced union power in the public sector. It was overturned by a statewide referendum.

“That’s where I think Ohio found its footing,” she said.

According to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, Ohio posted the third largest increase of unionized jobs in the country, behind California and Texas.

Nationwide, more than 16 million workers were represented by a union in 2022, an increase of 200,000 from 2021, EPI reported. Although more jobs were organized, the share of union workers among the U.S. workforce declined from 11.6% in 2021 to 11.3% in 2022, the report stated.

AFL-CIO’s Padisak said that while union representation as a share of the workforce nationwide is down, membership is gaining traction in Ohio.

“We’ve lost so many residents in the Mahoning Valley who have either moved away or retired, and it’s been difficult to organize and get membership over the last several years,” Padisak said. 

Projects such as Ultium and any future EV-related business could bode well for organized labor, especially the building trades, Padisak noted.

“The building trades are working like mad, and we’ve been reinventing ourselves through organizations such as the Youngstown Business Incubator and Voltage Valley,” he said. “We’re hopeful.”

Pictured at top: Ultium Cells LLC’s Lordstown battery cell plant.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.