It’s going to take more than a few coffeeshops or cannabis dispensaries to ignite the next wave of unionization in America, but workforce organizers have adjusted their sails during a time of historic lows.

In 2022, the union membership rate for wage and salary workers hit an all-time bottom of 10.1%, down 0.2% from the previous year, with the total number of workers belonging to unions at 14.3 million, according to union data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the number of union workers increased by 273,000 in 2022, the total number of workers grew more rapidly.

In 1983, the first year of comparable data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, America’s union membership rate was 20.1% with 17.7 million workers unionized. However, the percentage of workers belonging to a union peaked at roughly one in three Americans in the mid-1950s, when public support was at an all-time high, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

But labor unions trying to reverse this historical trend are fighting to organize workers from emerging companies and industries, including Amazon, Apple and Starbucks, according to a pro-union White House that in late 2022 declared “organized labor appears to be having a moment.”

As a lead target for unions trying to expand their membership in today’s workforce, Starbucks saw thousands of workers from more than 250 coffeehouses voting to unionize in 2022.

And as more states legalize cannabis—including Delaware, Minnesota, Ohio and Kentucky (medical) in 2023—dispensary workers are increasingly joining this effort to turn the corner for unionization in American.

“Really what we’re seeing now, and I guess in reality they’re two staples of consumer: It’s Starbucks, and it’s cannabis. Those are really the leading focus of unions at this point,” Jeff Toppel, partner at Bianchi & Brandt, told Cannabis Business Times.

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