Formed the Starbucks and Amazon unions. Now they have to agree on contracts.

The number of union members in the United States has been declining for decades, but there has been a potential change recently. Seventeen corporate Starbucks locations in the United States have voted to form a union since the end of last year, and 170 or more are expected to vote in the coming weeks and months – all in a field where unionization is rare. In early April, workers at the Staten Island Amazon warehouse also voted for a union. These successful votes are of historic significance and are a beacon of hope for the unions in the United States.

But while the hard-won union votes were the most cinematic part, it was not the end of the story. The long and difficult process of negotiating a contract that will benefit workers has only just begun – its outcome is uncertain.

To move forward, the union must write an agreement with the company, the union and the company must agree to it, and then vote on whether the union members agree. The process can take anywhere from six months to a few years – and will not end with some contract. Thirty percent of unions have not reached an agreement in three years.

The unions representing Starbucks and Amazon workers are off to a good start, as the goals of most are clear. The Amazon Workers’ Union (ALU) has stated that its main objectives are to raise wages to $ 30 an hour, to give workers longer breaks and to eliminate often overtime. The first Starbucks Workers United Union has been in contract negotiations since January 31 at the Elmwood Avenue store in Buffalo, New York; It has so far proposed “just cause” firing, better health and safety ethics and the option of providing customers with credit card tips. Future plans include better pay and benefits.

Experts say agreeing with Amazon and Starbucks deals is the hard part. It is not because of the lack of effort of the unions. In contrast, unions often face upward struggles with non-cooperating companies and dental labor laws.

Companies can find many ways to stall. Amazon is already opposing the historic Staten Island referendum, accusing the union of threatening to vote for the union. Starbucks has filed appeals to delay the union vote, but said it values ​​the bargaining process for the stores that voted to unionize.

Companies should negotiate in good faith, but there is no deadline for when it should happen, or they are not forced to agree to a contract. “There is no mechanism in our law to force management,” Harry Godz, a professor at Cornell University’s School of Labor Relations, told the record. The NLRB, a federal body accused of enforcing labor law, can do little if it finds that they are unnecessarily paralyzed.

It is clear why so many companies are paralyzed: it can cause unions to lose momentum. Workers may wonder what the union will do if years pass without a contract. In addition, both Amazon and Starbucks are in high-income businesses where those most interested in unionizing may not be in that job enough to see the deal, which could hamper union movement.

The trick for the unions is to use collective action, such as strikes, and public and political pressure to try to persuade these employers to agree to the agreement.

The Amazon Labor Union, created to regulate the Staten Island warehouse, is not affiliated with the old union, so it has no infrastructure – or money – from unions that have been collecting arrears for years. That is, the union, which has so far been financed with crotch money and pro-aid, must automatically discover complex processes such as contract writing, negotiation and enforcement. Most importantly, its absence can hinder the ability of striking workers. Unlike the established unions, the ALU has no funds to help workers – many of whom may not have the minimum hourly wage and cash balance – and will drop their wages in a protracted strike.

However, Rebecca Given, a professor at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Studies, says the strike at the 8,000-strong warehouse in New York City will not take long. “Very modest actions can cause significant disruption,” he said, adding that one-hour or one-day strikes may be enough for management to agree. It would be very difficult for Amazon to quickly replace workers who strike in such a large warehouse.

Amazon Labor Union is likely to accept formal or informal assistance from an existing union, such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is affiliated with the Starbucks parent association. Mary K. Henry, International President of SEIU, said in a statement to Recode that her union “will do all we can to help Amazon workers who are struggling to give a voice at work to bargain for a better future.” Teamsters representing warehouse and distribution workers may also be involved: ALU leaders on Thursday Christian Smalls and Derrick Palmer are Sean M. Met O’Brien, General Chairman of Teamsters. According to a TeamStars spokesperson, they discussed the resources and assistance that TeamStars could provide to secure their first contract with Amazon. The Amazon Workers’ Union did not respond to requests for comment.

According to Jivan, increasing the number of union members across the United States, even if not for their own union, is in the interest of the unions. “Amazon is the biggest threat to the quality of jobs in the shipping and logistics industry, many of which are the work of teammasters,” he said.

Part of the success of the Starbucks and Amazon unions has allowed them to largely avoid criticism of outsiders. Starbucks workers negotiate their contracts – not union lawyers. This is often the case with the Amazon trade union, which is made up entirely of Amazon workers.

The Starbucks union, however, is part of a larger, more established union called Workers United. That means there is more evidence to guide them through writing a deal and negotiating. If the union wants to do that, it can help with the strike funding. However, the Starbucks stores are much smaller than the Amazon warehouse, so the strike will have a minimal impact on one of its 9,000 stores. Replacing 20 or more striking barristers is relatively easy.

One thing that can work in favor of unions is that both Amazon and Starbucks are widely known, customer-facing companies that make it easy for workers to attract political and public incentives.

Sen for these union efforts. Politicians from Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to President Joe Biden have shown support. According to Gallup, the general approval of the unions is at its highest level since 1965.

“The whole country sees and sees working people everywhere, and they value Amazon and Starbucks by their actions,” Given said.

Public and political union supporters can help pressure companies to accept union demands. Perhaps directly, Starbucks’ own investors have asked the company to remain neutral in the unions and to quickly come to collective bargaining agreements with union-making stores.

Commenting on whether the recent successful reorganization and current contract negotiations are sufficient to replace the long-declining union members, Katz said, “I think this will lead to more. [organizing] But I do not think this is a sign of a bigger turn. ” [of increased unionizing] In the most traditional fields. “

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