Labor Day 2022 falls right in the middle of what is becoming a pivotal year for American unions.
There have been steady streams of workforce mobilizations in the summer. Employers at Trader Joe’s locations in Massachusetts and MinneapolisBoth voted to unify. Chipotle, a restaurant chain, saw the outcome. first of its stores unionizeFollowing a vote of workers at a Lansing outlet, Michigan,
This success comes on the heels of successful efforts at mobilization at Amazon and Starbucks. The rise of unionized Starbucks stores has been phenomenal. Since the beginning of baristas in Buffalo, New York, became the first at the chain to unionizeIn December 2021 colleagues at 234 more outlets followed the example of their predecessors in recent months.
The success of an independent company is the same. Amazon Labor Union — formed in 2020 by Chris SmallsAnonymous Amazon worker fired for protesting what he saw as inadequate COVID-19 safety precautions — in forming the first plant of the retail giant to have a unionized workforceIt has inspired others to do the same.
This comes as polling shows that the public supports unions at their highest level highest since 1965With the support of 71% of Americans, it is possible. The labor movement is changing in 2022.
A Different Kind Of Organizing
As a scholar of the labor movementAs someone who has been following union drives for over 20 years, I find the unconventional nature of organizing campaigns almost as striking as the victories.
Workers at Amazon and Trader Joe’s are setting up independent unions, whereas at Starbucks and Chipotle, employees are teaming up with established unions. Despite the differences, the dynamics are very similar: The campaigns are being managed by determined young workers. It is generally bottom-up unionizing and not being driven by experienced union representatives.
Pro-union sentiments in political movements such a Bernie Sanders’ presidential bids, Black Lives MatterThe Democratic Socialists of AmericaIndividuals are leading the effort for workplace reform, rather than professional union organizers. It would be difficult to find experienced organizers in the recent campaigns.
Instead, the campaigns have involved a significant degree of “self-organization” — that is, workers “talking union” to each other in the warehouse and coffee shops and reaching out to colleagues in other shops in the same city and across the nation. This marks a sea changeBased on the traditional way that the labor movement operated, it has tended to have been more centralized and led by experienced union officials.
A Labor Revival
Perhaps more important than the victories at Starbucks, Amazon, Trader Joe’s and Chipotle themselves is their potential for creating a sense of optimism and enthusiasm around union organizing, especially among younger workers.
The elections follow years of union decline in the U.S.Both in terms of influence and membership.
These labor wins were probably unimaginable before the COVID-19 pandemic. The wealthy, powerful corporations like Amazon and StarbucksIn the context of, it appeared that he was invincible. National Labor Relations BoardRules that are heavily stacked against pro-union workers. Under NLRB rules, employers can — and do — force workers, on the threat of dismissal, to attend anti-union sessions, often led By highly paid external consultants.
Starbucks has said it has been “consistent in denying any claims of anti-union activity. They are categorically false.” But the NLRB has alleged that the coffee chain has fired and coerced workersSupporters of the union placed under surveillance and retaliatedThey are not to be trusted.
The NLRB also has filed a complaint against StarbucksStarbucks management is currently facing nearly 300 unfair labor practices charges for illegally withholding wages and benefits from union workers. Amazon, which in past has advertised for analysts to monitor “labor organizing threats,” has said it respects workers’ rights to join or not join unions.
The recent victories are not just about the 8,000 new union membersAmazon or a gradual influx of new union members to Starbucks. It is about instilling in workers a belief that pro-union workers can win at Amazon or Starbucks and can win anywhere else.
Historical precedents demonstrate that labor mobilization is possible to be infectious.
Workers at the Flint plant of General Motors were employed in 1936 and 1937. brought the powerful automaker to its kneesIn a sit-down strike quickly inspired similar action elsewhere. In the reported words of a Chicago doctor, when explaining a subsequent sit-down strike by wet nurses in the city: “It’s just one of those funny things. They want to strike because everyone else is doing it.”
Take Control of the Moment
After working on the front lines for over two years, many essential workers such as those at Amazon and Trader Joe’s believe they have not been adequately rewardedThey were not treated with respect by their employers for their service during the pandemic.
This seems to have helped spur the popularitySeveral smaller unions that are workplace-specific.
Chains are unable to use a decades-old trope in corporate anti-union campaign campaigns because they are locally-based. union is an external “third party” that doesn’t understand or care about the concerns of employees and is more interested in collecting dues.
These arguments are mostly hollow however when the people doing the unionizingThey are the people they work with every day.
It has the effect that it nullifies the central argument of anti union campaigns despite many millions of dollarsCompanies often pump money into them.
An unfavorable legal environment
This “self-organization” is consistent with what was envisioned by the authors of the 1935 Wagner Act, the statute that provides the foundation of today’s union representation procedures.
The National Labor Relations Board’s first chair, J. Warren Madden, understood that self-organization could be fatally undermined if corporations were allowed to engage in anti-union pressure tactics:
“Upon this fundamental principle — that an employer shall keep his hands off the self-organization of employees — the entire structure of the act rests,” he wrote.“ Any compromise or weakening of that principle strikes at the root of the law.”
Over the past half century, anti-union corporations and their consultants and law firms — assisted by Republican-controlled NLRBs and right-wing judges — have undermined that processAllowing union elections to be employer-dominated allows workers to organize themselves.
However, for the long-term decline of union membership to be reversed I believe that pro-union workers need stronger protections. If you want to see labor law reform, it is crucial. almost 50% of nonunion American workersUnion representation is something that people who want it are likely to get.
Dispelling Fear and Futility
Popular interest is low has long been an obstacleReform of the labor law
It is unlikely that meaningful labor law reform will be achieved unless people are involved with the issues, understand the issues and believe they have an interest in the outcome.
But media interest in the campaigns at Starbucks and AmazonThis suggests that the American public might finally be paying attention.
It isn’t known where this latest labor movement — or moment — will lead. It could evaporate or it may just spark a wave of organizing across the low-wage service sector, stimulating a national debate over workers’ rights in the process.
Anti-union corporations’ biggest weapons in suppressing labor momentum include fear of retaliation, and a belief that unionization is futile. Recent successes prove that unionizing does not seem so scary or futile.
This is an updated version an article originally publishedApril 4, 2022