In the six weeks since I posted on labor unions’ resurgence, there has been a flurry of news.
This headline firm, as reported by Ken Martin in Fox Business on August 12th, has a problem, namely “Amazon worker deaths in New Jersey under investigation.” In the month before the article date, two employees there died clearly from workplace injuries, and a third did “potentially.” That company has since had its second attempt in another state, as “NY Amazon workers file for union election” (Haleluya Hadero, Associated Press, published in Times Herald-Record on August 18th), adding to Staten Island the Albany-area town of Schodack. Issues here included “better training,” and, this time, money, as a spokesperson said they had workers “unable to even make it to work because they can’t afford gas.” The election, if approved by the National Labor Relations Board, would also be under new-and-growing Amazon Labor Union auspices. Sad.
On August 5th, CNBC published a general update, “Unions are forming at Starbucks, Apple and Google. Here’s why workers are organizing now,” by Katie Schoolov. The first firm, though starting later than Amazon, has had the most locations with recent union activity, as the number of Starbucks coffee shops greatly exceeds that of Amazon offices and warehouses. The Apple and Google efforts are “slower,” but Starbucks is jumping ahead, and baristas, to name those of one job title, “want a boost to the current starting salary of $15 per hour, more staffing where it’s needed and more say over their schedules,” along with “better benefits,” including “more comprehensive mental health benefits as well because working during a pandemic has been enormously stressful.” In more specific news, we have “Starbucks accused by union of retaliation over closure of two locations” (Aislinn Murphy, Fox Business, August 23rd), these being in Missouri and Washington State and officially shuttered “over safety concerns,” and “Starbucks illegally withheld raises from workers at unionized stores, National Labor Relations Board complaint alleges” (The Washington Post, August 24th). Unpleasant.
A 530-location grocery store chain is joining the multiple club, as “Trader Joe’s Workers Vote to Unionize at a Second Store” (Noam Scheiber, The New York Times, August 12th). This one’s in Minneapolis, joining one in Hadley, Massachusetts, with filing completed by another in Colorado. They also have their own union, Trader Joe’s United, and have been spurred by dissatisfaction with pay, benefits, and a lack of “protocols or systems in place to handle certain emergencies,” especially in urban settings.
To reinforce things I wrote about last month, we can see what’s happening here. With labor in high demand, more and more employees not getting satisfaction with issues are choosing to stay and fight. I don’t know the histories of how these problems moved from mentioned to causing an elaborate, lengthy, and charge-carrying process, but suspect that unionization was not the first step. The safety issues are those generally resolved in American workplaces 30 years ago or more. The monitoring, regulating, and often worker-squeezing ones may be out of line with our current economy, if not simply unreasonable. The organizing has come so quickly that many companies have doubtless not been able to change quickly enough.
But here are two with no choice. I wondered why certain shipping company employees dressed as if they were in the tropics; by reading “UPS Drivers Say ‘Brutal’ Heat Is Endangering Their Lives” (Livia Albeck-Ripka, The New York Times, August 20th) I found out. Apparently an issue shared by Fed Ex and to some extent with the United States Postal Service, the results of the problems, including dehydration and heat exposure with in-vehicle temperatures way over 100 degrees, have included paramedic visits, hospitalizations, and even deaths. United Parcel Service management is providing the likes of “cooling towels,” “water, ice, electrolyte replacement beverages and fruit,” along with more installed fans, but they will find out soon that that is not enough.
UPS faces two choices – put air conditioning in all of their “smaller delivery trucks,” none of which have it, or face a blizzard of not only successful lawsuits but a great increase in unionization there, which has about half of its workers represented leaving 200,000 more. Worse could be coming for FedEx, which has no drivers at all in unions. If they do not want to turn up in articles such as the above, along with drawing bad public relations, UPS and FedEx will need to end this embarrassing situation. Here, once again, decisions to unionize will not be made by the workers.