Starbucks and Amazon Union
Membership are growing & flinching


Staffers from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced on Tuesday that
they have created a union. This follows Starbucks employees have last week scored 50 wins for
unions across the nation and numerous other Starbucks locations are scheduled to follow within
the next few days. As per the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) approximately 250
Starbucks stores, which represent more than 7,000 employees are currently attempting to join
unions. Last month, workers in the Amazon Warehouse located in New York City defied all odds
by winning their first battle with unions against the second largest employers of workers in the
United States. The unionization process is working across all industries all the way from retail to
technology and their victories have led to even greater unionization interest. Union
representation petitions in the first quarter of 2022 have been increasing by 60 percent over last

The flurry of union organizing that was unimaginable only several months ago is now taking
place in a favorable context which includes a tight labor market, record-breaking inequality, and
a pro-union government, that extends to the direction of the NLRB is the agency charged with organizing union elections as well as enforcement of labor laws. The public’s support for Unions
stands at its highest since.

We don’t yet know if these changes can be used to effectively overcome the persistent
headwinds, ranging from anti-union laws to the increase in gig jobs, that have led to union
membership falling for many years. In the year 2000, under similar circumstances that saw the
membership of unions in the US decreased by 240,000, which left the percentage of union
members at a lower of just 10 percent less than used to be the norm in 1980. The pandemic is
an enigma for unions, offering more motivation to organize, but as well, causing non-union and
union employees to lose their job.

It’s possible that the emotional impact of union victories is more significant than the actual
weight. The typical Starbucks has only 26 employees but there haven’t been any public union
activities in the majority of its 9,000 stores in its corporate stores. Following the time that a
Staten Island Amazon fulfillment center got its unionization vote the workers, another sort center
failed to unionize as well, as well. There are over 800 Amazon warehouses across the nation.

It’s unclear where the money will come from. The total membership figures won’t be made public
until when the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases its numbers at the beginning of next year.
However, we do know that several unions have been successful in resisting the trend in recent
times by adding members. Labor organizers have achieved this through a range of strategies,
both new as well as old-fashioned, and may aid other shops in doing similar things. Experts in
labor praise unions’ efforts, but argue that more needs to be done on a policy level to ensure
that these recent victories aren’t just an isolated event.

Are these sustainable?

In all likelihood, now is an ideal time as ever for unions to form.

The current political climate has many similarities that date back to the 1930s when the US
experienced its highest union growth. Similar to what it experienced during that period it is now
an anti-union administration, businesses that make huge profits, and employees who are aware
that they’re not part of the profits. The global pandemic, similar to that of the Great Depression,
magnified the gap between workers and large corporations. In the meantime, a low
unemployment rate and a large number of resignations during the Great Resignation have
given workers more power, whether to find more work or form a union to improve their work.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution in regards to the most effective method to manage.
Strategies differ based on who is organizing, in what field, and at what time. There are however
several good strategies floating around.

In many cases, the most successful unions are organizing people who weren’t previously
organized. They’re actually keeping track of the evolving American workforce that is becoming
more composed of service workers.

“For a long time, there was a belief you couldn’t organize low-wage workers or part-time
workers,” Patricia Campos-Medina who is the executive director of the Worker Institute at
Cornell University’s labor school told Recode. “Industry is changing. The economy of our
country has changed.”

Unions that have targeted these industries have had great success, she added, citing unions
such as United Food and Commercial Workers Union and Workers United.

In recent times, Workers United, the parent company of the Starbucks union has expanded into
fast-food outlets along with non-profits as well as distribution companies. The union was in the
pandemic with around 82,000 members and now has 87,000 as it, like other unions, saw
members disappear during the outbreak as companies closed and lay off employees. Its
numbers do not include workers at the newly-unionized Starbucks since they aren’t yet covered
by the contract.

One of the reasons that make companies such as Starbucks ideal for unionization is the fact
that they are within an industry that is known for its low wages, workplace conditions, and
benefits which is where improvement could make the biggest difference. Things like having to
deal with the additional costs of inflation, the need to buy PPE, and taking Uber instead of a taxi
Uber instead of public transport can have a greater impact on those who earn $30,000 a year
than those earning more. In addition what they do in their workplaces them in close contact with
their customers which is a risk during a worldwide epidemic.

“When you work in an industry that has some of the lowest-paid jobs in all of the industries such
as the service industry or distribution or in traditional manufacturing, the effects of a global
pandemic and the changes in how that affects your work are felt in a much greater way,”
Richard Minter, Workers United Vice President stated.

The workers also experience most disagreement with the leadership in their workplaces. The
pandemic only increased the gap. Retail workers risked their lives while executives worked from
home while their companies made massive profits. A Brookings study discovered that workers
in the frontline had a small increase in their wages, and their shareholders at the company
became significantly richer.

The workers also had other issues in addition.

Minter shared the tale of workers in an industrial facility where managers would berate them on
the intercom that they had returned from break just a couple of minutes late or going to
bathrooms too often — even though the managers were at home. Employees in these sectors
seek to escape the demeaning circumstances through unionization.

Another thing that successful unions are relying more heavily on is the power of the worker.
Technology has allowed employees themselves to share their stories and organize their fellow

“Their sphere of influence, because of technology and social media, allows a partner in Buffalo
to have an amazing impact with partners in Miami, Florida, or Hialeah, or Phoenix, Arizona, or
Mesa, or Seattle,” Minter said.

Starbucks Workers United is predominantly run by the workers themselves and they organize
new workers and negotiate their own contracts, but with help from Workers United. Amazon
Labor Union is an entirely brand new union that was created by Amazon employees. Its creator,
Chris Smalls, and his co-organizers understood the needs of workers in their warehouse
needed, as they are employees themselves.

The creation of unions led by workers also involves discovering, teaching, and promoting the
union’s management from the inside, specifically those who are demographically representative
of their workforce.

“I was a bartender and a busboy,” explained Ted Pappageorge, secretary-treasurer of the
Culinary Workers Union Local 226 which is a Nevada union with members from 178 nations. “All
of our folks came out of the ranks, like a lot of other unions, but we spend a lot of time
developing leadership inside the rank-and-file and they have big-time decision-making
[capabilities] when it comes to these organizing drives.”

The Culinary Union has become such an effective factor that it has helped to influence Nevada
to support Biden during the most recent presidential election. The membership of the union is
lower by about 20 percent from the pre-pandemic figures because it has a lot of work with
resorts that have struggled in the wake of a slow return to business travel However, over the last
two decades, the organization had witnessed its membership grow by three times. Its parent
company, Unite Here, has suffered similar losses as a result of its involvement in the hotel
sector however, since the beginning of the pandemic, it has brought approximately 20,000
workers to join its union.

To cover a wider range of Americans Unions such as Unite Here have broadened the range of
topics they address that go beyond benefits and wages. Unions are responsible for all things
from fighting citizenship rights for workers who aren’t legally documented to fighting sexual
harassment to lobbying for legislation to end student loan debt.

They’ve also altered the way they approach things.

“We used to have a very formal formula about how many committee members you need per
worker when you could go public,” D Taylor, international president of Unite Here, told Recode.
“I believe some of these rules have been loosening due to the fact that workers are stressed or
angry If the job is to drag it, they’re not going keep it. It’s important to make the most of the

For union organizers, this is about being more innovative in their strategies, getting lots of ideas
from the workers themselves, and moving more quickly. Also, it means taking on risks that they
didn’t take previously. In recent times, Unite Here has been fighting for recognition instead of
taking part in a union vote, which could put their pay in danger. They’re also launching public campaigns earlier, which could aid them in seizing the moment, while also giving employers
more time to fight the union.

Real growth requires updating union law

We’re not sure whether this trend will last. power, however, many experts believe that the US
has to update its labor laws in order for organized labor to increase in the coming years. The
laws governing unions haven’t been changed substantially since 1947, the year that lawmakers
revised the original National Labor Relations Act to be more anti-union, Wilma Liebman, former
chairperson for a long time and member of the NLRB has said.

“Unfortunately, labor law reform has been tried and failed for decades,” Liebman stated.

The current interpretation of the law on unions means that forming a union is incredibly difficult.
Even if workers are able to join a union, businesses are able to find many methods to hold off
and aren’t required by law to negotiate an initial contract.

In the first place, there has to be a better implementation of the law as it stands as per David
Weil, dean, and professor at Brandeis’s policy school. That’s “making sure that, during the
course of a union election that both sides — the union side in particular — have the opportunity to
make its case and that the management side is not allowed to use its disproportionate impact
on scaring workers out of ultimately agreeing to a union,” Weil stated.

Jennifer Abruzzo, the current General Counsel for the NLRB, Jennifer Abruzzo, is working to
level the playing field by preventing closed-door meetings where employers can make workers
listen to anti-union arguments in their workplaces. Abruzzo also plans to bring back the Joy Silk
doctrine which requires unions to demonstrate majority support without going through an official

It would also benefit the cause if NLRB was more powerful. If a company engages in something
that could be illegal in order to influence an election, for example, Starbucks said that they’re
raising wages for employees who are not unionized Unions are able to make unfair labor
practices charges against the NLRB. It’s been reported that the Starbucks union has submitted
112 unfair labor practices allegations against the company. But should the NLRB finds that the
company has acted in a way that is illegal ( as it recently did in the case of Starbucks) it’s not
much that the agency could do, other than a simple slap and tell them to behave better the next
time. In retaliation for the pattern of retaliation and intimidation against union members as a
result of the incident, the NLRB requested that the company provide workers with a written
notice informing them of their rights, to reinstate and give the workers who were fired back with
back pay as well as to allow the union the same amount of time present its argument.

The law in place is also a requirement for unions to be organized through a company, not by
sector and sector, which experts have said puts union businesses at a disadvantage and reduce
the overall membership of unions. Additionally, states have laws that let employees decide to
opt out of unions and pay union fees. The PRO Act that was approved by the House this year would be a significant step towards addressing these issues and would make it much easier to
join unions, but the legislation is currently by the Senate and is unlikely to get through.

Meanwhile, additional union activities are helping to fill the gap. Campaigns such as Fight for
$15 and a Union and The Workers Defense Project, and the Nail Salon Minimum Standards
Council Act are trying to improve standards, wages, and benefits for various sections of the
workforce across the nation. The benefits these programs have brought can help improve the
standard of living for all workers and also provide a stronger base from which to organize
according to Sarita Gupta who is co-author of “The Future We Want The Future We Need:
Organizing for the Future of a Better Democracy in the Twenty-First Century.

“It starts to expand people’s notion of what they should be demanding at this moment, what they
can be demanding,” Gupta stated. “It allows unions to be able to talk to more people, address
their immediate demands in the economy, and then begin the discussion about, ‘What would it
be like if you had more of a consistent influence at work?

The data that shows declines in membership through 2021 is a good indicator of the current
state of the union movement in America. There’s a more difficult to measure the shift in
organized labor taking place. The extent to which this shift will determine what direction the
labor movement takes to in the future.