Another characteristic of today’s labor situation - unwillingness to put up with what workers consider unacceptably bad times on the job – keeps unfolding.
To start, “Chipotle workers in Michigan to join teamsters, first for restaurant chain,” by Ken Martin in Fox Business on August 26th, documented workers in a Lansing branch seeking representation “to improve their work schedules, increase wages, and gain the respect from management that they’ve rightfully earned.” The victorious Teamsters general president issued a clarion call, saying “now is the time for working people in this country to take back what’s theirs. No matter your industry, no matter your age or how intimidating your employer mat seem, you too can protect your labor with a union.” That towered over Chipotle’s chief corporate affairs officer saying that “our employees are our greatest asset,” and those not backing up that stale boilerplate will meet the same fate.
A combination of social media and those on payrolls at a world-famous coffee chain is proving effective, as “Starbucks workers are winning the union fight on TikTok” (Jo Constanz, Benefit News, September 1st). A video posted there “showing employees staging a walkout after the firing of a coworker got 28 million views,” a massive number even given that company employs 402,000. More to follow there…
That same day, it happened that “Amazon loses attempt to scrap historic union win,” also by Ken Martin in Fox Business, published September 2nd. The retailer “filed more than two dozen objections with the National Labor Relations Board” to unionizing workers at their Staten Island warehouse, but they were all denied. Martin also noted that “other campaigns have kicked off at Amazon warehouses in North Carolina, Kentucky and elsewhere.”
As well, “4,000 Google contractors quietly unionized, a big win for a labor movement that has struggled to make inroads with Big Tech,” as reported on September 5th in The Washington Post. They were not technicians, though, but “cooks and servers” at their cafeterias.
Beyond only organizing, we see “Strikes becoming more common amid inflation, tight labor market” (Kris Maher, Fox Business, September 16th). A Cornell University group found that during the first six months of 2021 there had been 102 strikes with 26,500 workers, but at that point this year it was 180 with 78,000, and 87 more by article time. The piece did not mention the activities above.
Part of another large company joined the trend, as an “Apple Store in Oklahoma City Becomes Second to Unionize,” by Noam Scheiber in the October 14th New York Times. Employees there will join the Communications Workers of America, long at AT&T and now also representing at Verizon and The New York Times itself. They, interestingly, had no issues with pay or benefits but “complained that supervisors’ decisions about hiring, pay and job assignments were often opaque.” If those views become common reasons for unionization, look out for a tidal wave of that in office parks all over the country.
To show that unions aren’t winning everything, we were informed by the October 18th Washington Post as “Amazon workers vote overwhelmingly against unionizing at a warehouse near Albany, N.Y.” The vote was 206 for and 406 against. We were also told, by Steven Greenhouse in the November 3rd Slate, that “Starbucks’ Aggressive Union-Busting Is a New Model for American Corporations,” which, per the author, the company accomplished by closing stores with union authorization, and had since been done by Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, and Amy’s Kitchen. That, along with Starbucks’ giving “new benefits to its nonunion workers, but not to its unionized ones,” assertions that the Albany election was marked by “intimidation and retaliation on a daily basis,” and Apple “withholding some education and health care benefits” from union employees, seems certain to be settled in court, where new precedents will likely be established.
Yet the coffee chain, per the article above, now has at least 200 unionized locations, and, per Noam Scheiber again in the New York Times, we saw “Starbucks Workers Strike at Dozens of Stores Nationally” (November 17th), caused by “the company’s refusal to bargain in good faith and anti-union tactics like firings and store closings.” There will be more, unless companies adjust quickly to the times we have been in since the pandemic. And that statement goes for all of the union activities described here.