2022: The year of the worker?

Graham Trainor
Graham Trainor

By GRAHAM TRAINOR, Oregon AFL-CIO president

2022 has seen working people and their unions more central to the mainstream national narrative than in quite some time. It’s hard to read a newspaper or scroll through online media without seeing a mention of workers fighting for fairness. A 2022 Gallup poll showcased yet another uptick in Americans’ approval of unions: the highest marks since 1965, at 71%—not to mention young workers and workers of color, whose support for a union in the workplace is even higher. 

In our region there have been nearly 260 filings for union representation at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in 2022. That’s up from 161 petitions filed in 2021, a dramatic increase from previous years. These numbers demonstrate that workers today are seeking the strong voice at work that only comes through unions. 

We know this desire for an equitable community doesn’t stop at work. Wins at the ballot box were only made possible through workers’ dedication and hard work to electing pro-worker champions at every level of government. From keeping pro-union, pro-worker majorities in the Oregon Legislature, to electing Tina Kotek as our next governor, to winning four out of five Congressional races, we ensured Oregon will continue to make progress for workers. Outside of Oregon, workers made a difference in races like the Georgia Senate seat where Raphael Warnock was reelected, overpowering a Trump-supported opponent. 

While we have much to be grateful for and inspired by, corporations and CEOs continue to try and control the economy. We’ve seen egregious union busting at Starbucks and Amazon, spurred by the greed of Jeff Bezos and Howard Schultz. While the NLRB has intervened occasionally, the Board remains very underfunded, which impacts its efficacy. We see corporations making record profits while driving up prices because of inflation, making it clear that short-changing working families is a choice driven by lust for profits. 

Some have called 2022 the year of the worker. It feels more like a couple of years of extreme hardship, loss, and vulnerability for workers has changed, for some—at least temporarily—the value people place on work. Combined with workers who became bolder, braver, and more willing to fight for fairness at work, this can truly be a game-changing moment for the labor movement if we’re willing to double down, organize new workers and truly build a movement of power for all working people. This moment presents a transformational period for our labor movement. The ingredients are all in place to help the 60 million people who say they’d join a union today if they had the opportunity to realize that wish. We need to reach out and embrace this movement. 

In 2022, there’s no doubt that workers have had plenty of wins. But we have further to go. In 2023 I want to see every worker who wants to join a union and bargain for a better life be able to do so with a fair set of rules. I want a United States where working people and their unions are seen as equally critical to the economy and shared prosperity of our nation as corporate CEOs. We need a community where union density across industries rises simultaneously with the favorability of unions. Inspirational years like 2022 will continue to pose an important reminder about the potential of workers bound by solidarity. It is also a call to action about the never-ending struggle for economic, social, and racial justice that embodies the spirit of the Oregon labor movement. Let’s continue to push for workers across Oregon and across the United States. I’ll see you in the streets in 2023! 

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