We are witnessing more worker organizing than many of us have seen in our lifetimes. Workers at colleges and universities, retail stores, newsrooms, nonprofits, museums, and more are forming unions with their co-workers. It has been nearly a year since the first group of Starbucks workers voted to unionize, and since then workers at more than 250 other Starbucks stores have joined them in unionizing. Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island have also voted to unionize, as have workers in diverse industries across the country. Petitions for union elections are up 58% at the National Labor Relations Board compared to last year.

But how long will it take for these newly organized workplaces to get a first contract?

Sixty million nonunion workers would vote for a union today if given the chance, and 71 percent of Americans support unions — the highest level of support since Lyndon Johnson was president in the 1960s, according to an August Gallup poll. It is inspiring to see this renewed interest in unions and collective bargaining, particularly the high levels of interest among young workers and workers of color.

Workers organize a union to exercise their collective power to negotiate a contract — a collective bargaining agreement — with their employers. These legally binding contracts cover pay, benefits, scheduling, time off, and other important issues. They put in place transparent terms and conditions of employment and a process for resolving disputes without having to go to court.

That’s why that first contract is so important. But we have weak federal labor law when it comes to helping workers and employers reach an initial collective bargaining agreement after workers first organize. There is no schedule or process for reaching an agreement, and bargaining can drag on for years. And it’s getting worse. Twenty years ago, nearly half (48%) of all newly organized units reached a first agreement within a year, and nearly two thirds (63%) within two years. But today, only 36% of newly organized units reach a collective bargaining agreement within one year, and only 58% after two years.

Some employers drag out the bargaining process by stalling, and workers to lose hope. Our law is not well equipped to deal with these situations, despite the best efforts of President Biden’s appointees to the National Labor Relations Board.


The Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act is strongly supported by the Biden-Harris administration. Introduced by Sen. Patty Murray and co-sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell, the act would establish a mediation and arbitration process for reaching a first contract agreement. The PRO Act, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives in March 2021, is awaiting a vote in the Senate.

Unions and employers working together can creatively solve problems and tackle novel issues, as we saw repeatedly during the COVID-19 pandemic, when collective bargaining produced pay premiums, health and safety equipment, and job security for unionized workers. Collective bargaining is a win for workers, for employers, and for our economy.

I urge all employers and newly organized employees to commit themselves to the collective bargaining process and to work hard at promptly reaching a first agreement. There is no reason the process needs to take so long, and it’s in the best interests of all parties to reach a deal. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) and others are there to help. Since July, FMCS mediators have worked with labor and management at 62 newly organized workplaces to help the parties reach an agreement.

Our country is stronger with collective bargaining, and bargaining that leads to a first contract. The Biden-Harris administration stands in solidarity with the millions of workers looking to win the benefits of a union contract.