Trends In Organizing: From Crafts To Cannabis And A Curious Exception

by | Aug 23, 2023 | Industry, Labor Relations Ink, Manufacturing, Retail, Service Industry, Strikes, Union Organizing, White-Collar

The Union heat is on in more ways than one this summer. The Teamsters and UAW applied pressure for new national contracts with UPS and the Big Three under threat of strikes. Media attention is rising for picketing by baristas, nurses, hotel staff, dockworkers, stadium employees, food service workers, writers, and actors.

Workers’ existing frustrations are not fading in a time of inflation. Certain groups like the Democratic Socialists of America might be capitalizing upon this discontent by ramping up the placement of paid union salts. Reportedly, thousands of DSA members recently “expressed interest” in infiltrating union-free workplaces. Whether these prospective salts will have newsworthy effects remains to be seen, but in the meantime, these organizing developments are worth a roundup:

  • A Michaels arts and crafts store saw workers file for a union vote at a  Massachusetts location, a first for this particular retailer.
  • Museum organizing remains on the rise, with three dozen institutions across the U.S. either unionized or are in the process of doing so. This includes UAW-targeted establishments like the Guggenheim Museum, the New Museum in NYC, and Mass MoCA. Organizing workers cite low pay in cities with high housing costs, and they want a slice of increased admission prices.
  • Philadelphia Orchestra singers unionized after a 20-month organizing drive.
  • Cannabis workers continue to organize, with 70 workers at a Connecticut grower and producer joining the United Food and Commercial Workers. What’s key in this case is the state’s adult-use cannabis law, which mandates “labor peace agreements” (in other words, union neutrality agreements) from companies.
  • Mushroom workers, formerly employed by Ostrom Farms, allege they were laid off as retaliation for joining the United Farm Workers. The workers claim that the union vote led Ostrom to shutter the property and sell it to Windmill Farms.
  • Will Big Law associates join the union wave? Probably not., but some associates recently voted to unionize at two small firms. Public service and government attorneys are also no strangers to unionizing, but when it comes to larger private firms, 24/7 work schedules are the norm, with high salaries to match. That combination, so far, has insulated Big Law from union activity among associates, especially at firms where competition for jobs is intense.

Meanwhile, at Chicago-based tortilla manufacturer El Milagro, the company has thus far stayed union-free with a twist. Workers campaigned on their own behalf for higher wages and better conditions, and they have claimed victories. Workers also filed complaints with the NLRB over seven-day workweeks and other issues, for which the workers and company reached a settlement without a union in the middle.

These workers received assistance from Arise Chicago, an advocacy group for non-unionized workers. A company spokesperson, however, declared that “changes have resulted from its own worker outreach” rather than through Arise Chicago. As for why unions do not appear to have targeted El Milagro, the answer is complicated, although the workers appear to be doing well for themselves without a union’s interference.

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