The so-called rise of Big Labor frequently gets characterized as a looming, rapidly growing monster ready to swallow up any and all workplaces, but the truth is that total union membership remains surprisingly low. At least, that’s surprising if one only sees the headlines about high-profile union organizing campaigns like Starbucks.
Still, the Starbucks saga is worth watching closely, given that (like the coffee that flows freely at a certain coffeehouse giant), the pandemic brewed up a perfect storm of worker frustration that feels contagious. From corporate giants like Apple to mom-and-pop operations, from grocery stores to banks, no industry remains immune.
The Starbucks story remains a leading example of how an organizing campaign can spread, seemingly like wildfire, and the saga is still churning out union-related updates:
- A Bay Area cafe’s organizing employees include multiple teenagers who reached out to Starbucks’ Workers United before reaching their senior year in high school. In other words, the relatively young workers driving the coffeehouse giant’s wave of organizing may be even younger than expected.
- The NLRB seeks an administrative law ruling for a bargaining order, which would require Starbucks to recognize the union at a New York cafe despite no vote from the store’s employees. This is an atypical move for sure, although the NLRB claims that Starbucks prevented organizing activities that can only be remedied by this bargaining order.
- The NLRB is also holding Starbucks’ feet to the fire with allegations that the company must reinstate seven fired organizing employees at a Tennessee cafe.
- Starbucks’ Workers United isn’t the only union on the scene. The United Food & Commercial Workers stepped up to attempt organizing three cafes after successfully organizing several Starbucks inside Kroger grocery stores.
Let’s catch up on the flurry of other organizing activity:
- Trader Joes employees (inspired by the Starbucks wave) in Massachusetts began a renewed push (following an abandoned attempt in 2020) to organize in search of increased pay and benefits, along with an eye toward workers safety.
- Target workers went on a merry-go-round, first filing for a union vote (while citing inflation vs. pay raises) but then withdrawing the petition without further explanation. Although the Target Workers Unite does plan to refile, it’s worth noting that Target recently raised its minimum wage up to $24 in some locations.
- The Apple retail employee story chose chaos with multiple unions attempting to organize workers spread across three states. At an Atlanta store, workers will soon vote in a Communications Workers of America drive; in Maryland, the International Association of Machinists aims to organize workers; and in Manhattan, Workers United (responsible for the Starbucks union wave) is working for another feather in their union cap. Meanwhile, Apple corporate employees formed a solidarity union called Apple Together, through which they’re speaking with their retail counterparts.
- The CWA’s CODE initiative to organize tech workers began 2022 by claiming Vodeo Games as North America’s first unionized video game studio. This month, workers at Raven Software (part of Activision Blizzard) voted to unionize as Game Workers Alliance (with election results pending NLRB certification).
- Penalties are no joke when it comes to tangling with unions. King Soopers employees face substantial fines (more than a day’s wages) after crossing picket lines, and Verizon is now on the hot seat with the CWA for allegedly terminating an employee over union organizing.
- Amazon Labor Union President, Christian Smalls, accepted a Senate invitation to discuss union activity at the online retailer’s warehouses. Although the union won a vote at the JFK8 location, workers at a second warehouse voted against the union, and the NLRB will allow a hearing that could overturn the JFK8 vote.