The Amazon and Starbucks union votes are small wins – but important – for American workers

After years of failed organizational efforts and a long, steady decline in the number of private sector employees represented by the unions, two grassroots elites have achieved recent successes in the country’s two largest employers, Amazon and Starbucks.

Both efforts represent only a small fraction of the total staff of those companies. But they also represent a sea change in the key discourse on American labor – and they encourage more trade union efforts.

Alexander Colvin, dean of the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, said, “Although this is a small percentage of the workforce so far, I think this is very significant. I think this is the real change we are seeing.”

From October 2021 to last month, the National Labor Relations Board reported that 1,174 petitions had been filed with the agency seeking union representation. This is 57% more than the same period a year ago – and the highest trade union structure in 10 years.

The successes of Amazon and Starbucks are key to union organizing efforts, Colvin said. That sentiment was echoed by Chris Smalls, who went from being a laid-off Amazon employee to the president of the Amazon Workers’ Union, which recently became the first union to win a representative vote at one of Amazon’s facilities.

Since that vote at the small work facility in Staten Island, New York, Amazon, he has spoken to workers who want to have their own union vote at 50 Amazon facilities across the country. Another poll is scheduled for another Staten Island Amazon facility later this month.

“I think what we did as a catalyst for a revolution with Amazon workers, like the Starbucks union effort,” he said in an interview with CNN + last week. “We want to have the same domino effect.”

Domino effect

In Starbucks, workers in 17 stores from Boston to its hometown of Seattle have voted to represent Starbucks Workers United since December – a separate grassroots union effort to hold polls in more than 100 additional stores.

The 9,000 U.S. stores run by Starbucks have about 235,000 workers. Fewer than 1,000 workers in 17 stores voted for the union. As was the case at Amazon, about 8,300 workers at the Staten Island facility were eligible to vote. It’s less than 1% of the company’s 1.1 million employees, including warehouse and office workers.

But the votes have made headlines, and Labor Board figures suggest efforts Amazon (AMZN) And Starbucks (SBUX) May be inspiring to others.
Trade union leaders speak out not only for better pay and benefits, but also for improved job security, employee status and workplace safety measures – as well as for giving a voice to the overall best working conditions and how workers are being treated. Employers generally argue that workers are better off without standing as a “third party” between workers and management.
“While not all partners who support unionization are cooperating with outside trade union forces, the important thing is that the focus, conflict, division and disagreement within the union system will benefit either Starbucks or our allies,” the CEO said. Shortly after taking over as CEO of the company, Howard Schultz referred to them as “partners” in a message to his employees.
Can Wall Street and the unions learn to work together?
However, the efforts seem to be paying off. Starbucks recently announced that it has stopped buying back its shares, which will primarily benefit its shareholders, in order to further invest in its employees. The company has instituted two pay rises over the past 18 months, and said it would raise baristas’ minimum wage by $ 15 an hour in October, with most hourly employees earning an average of $ 17 an hour this summer.

Govt changes over time

John Logan, a professor of labor and employment research at San Francisco State University, said the demands of many unions stem from difficulties in working during epidemics over the past two years.

“Part of what has changed is that we are at a different moment, [with] Leading employees feel they have not been rewarded or treated with respect during epidemics, “Logan said.” I think something has changed in the consciousness of young workers. “

The tight labor market – with more jobs and more workers leaving than job seekers – makes it easier to organize today, Colvin said. The fact that workers do not want to lose their job at the company they are trying to organize, but that other jobs are available, will make them even more willing to take that risk.
Amazon files appeal of historic union referendum in New York City warehouse
The highly trade union friendly NLRB was a factor under the Biden administration. Amazon appealed for a vote on the Staten Island facility, accusing the Labor Board of acting “unreasonably and inappropriately” and delaying what it calls “trivial” unreasonable labor practice fees.

Kyla Plato, the NLRB’s press secretary, said in a statement that the board was “an independent federal body accused by Congress of enforcing the National Labor Relations Act” and that its enforcement action against Amazon was “consistent with that”.

“Things are changing for the better for workers. They have implemented solutions that make it easier to organize,” said Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union. “We still have a long way to go.”

The biggest possible change under the new, more labor-friendly NRLB, the recent comment of its general adviser, is that management can no longer seat workers through presentations on the company’s union position, arguing that doing so violates workers’ rights. Organizing-related activities should be avoided. Such meetings are central to administrative efforts to thwart union organization efforts.

One of the biggest challenges facing the union is the small number of forced meetings. “Workers have 24-hour access. You can’t compete by comparing it,” he said.

Although Colvin said it would not surprise him if the Democrat-controlled NLRB voted to change it, the idea would not change the current law that allows those meetings. From there, it could be a potential court case that could go to the US Supreme Court, which has already indicated very little support for the unions.

Decrease in the number of union members

Even with the recent successes for the unions, many long-term trends that have reduced the number of union members by only 7% in the private sector over the past 50 years are still in effect. Colvin said a major reason is the shift from manufacturing to service sector jobs like Starbucks and Amazon.

Other factors contributing to the decline in union membership include the rise of non-union rivals, automation, the creation of facilities in the less trade-friendly southern states, and the shift of production abroad.

Experts say finding ways to streamline Amazon and Starbucks and other service companies in areas such as technology, finance and retail is key to reversing those long-term trends.

Eric Loomis, a labor historian and associate professor at the University of Rhode Island, said the unions’ winning over new members was an uphill battle but that did not mean they could not win.

“Amazon is the GM or US Steel of our time – and it took decades to reorganize those seats,” he said before the vote results were announced on Amazon last month. “Before these kinds of companies were finally successfully organized, it took on different kinds of campaigns through different ideologies, different organizational methods.”

Leave a Comment