Amazon and Starbucks union drives are big news—a sign of the changing

In a carefully watched November 29, 2021, resolution, the Nationwide Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Amazon had committed serious violations of federal labor legislation throughout a union marketing campaign at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. In the resolution, the NLRB attacked Amazon’s “flagrant disregard” for election guidelines, saying it “primarily hijacked the course of.” The net retail big gained the union vote, held earlier this yr, by a 2-1 margin however will now be pressured right into a do-over election.

In the meantime in Buffalo, New York, baristas at Starbucks voted to unionize on December 9, making them the espresso chain’s solely unionized workforce in the United States in what has been touted as a “watershed” moment.

As a labor scholar who has tracked unionization efforts for 20 years, I imagine we might be on the cusp of a brand new labor relations order, spurred largely by elevated media and public curiosity generated by these high-profile campaigns.

The organizing drive at the Amazon warehouse in Alabama by the Retail, Wholesale, and Division Retailer Union from January to March 2021, was one of the most carefully watched union campaigns in a long time. It generated media protection of Amazon’s anti-union behavior, and even arguably helped revive the so-called labor beat in newsrooms. after years of languishing.


The NLRB resolution supplied damaging headlines for Amazon. “Amazon made ‘free and honest’ Bessemer union election ‘unattainable,’ labor official guidelines,” ran the headline of the Alabama information web site The Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Publish ran with: “Labor board requires revote at Amazon warehouse in Alabama in main victory for union.”

Even when it had been to win the second poll with out violating the legislation, Amazon is highly sensitive about negative media, and firm officers will possible detest any protection of one other high-profile union election.

Labor rights go mainstream

The NLRB order itself was arguably much less fascinating—regardless of its enormous potential significance at Amazon—than the undeniable fact that it resulted in lengthy articles in several major media outlets.

Over the previous yr or so, organized labor has seemingly entered the mainstream once more. It follows a long time of obvious dwindling curiosity in union drives in the public sphere. A Google Ngram—which charts the use of phrases in publications—exhibits a decline in the appearance of “unionization” and “union drive” from the late Nineteen Seventies to the late 2010s.

This decline correlates with the rising weak spot of unions over that interval: Unions characterize only 10.8% of American workers today, down from 20% 4 a long time in the past.

Into this decline has come a latest wave of positive press for unions. It corresponds to nearly record-high charges of public approval in unions. The truth is, at 68%, help for unions is at its highest level since 1965. As well as, most Individuals assume union decline has hurt working people.


[Photo: Libby March for The Washington Post/Getty Images]

Labor-law reform

The problem of labor rights has seemingly garnered the nation’s consideration like nothing I’ve seen in my lifetime and even in the previous half century. And rising consciousness of the difficulty may have an effect on efforts to enhance the legislative atmosphere for unionizing.

A recent poll found that 59% of respondents supported strengthening labor legal guidelines via proposals, corresponding to penalizing firms that retaliate in opposition to staff attempting to unionize and eliminating “right-to-work” legal guidelines that enable workers to profit from union contracts with out paying dues.

In the previous, lack of public consciousness has helped torpedo labor-law reform campaigns. In 2009-2010, throughout the marketing campaign for the Worker Free Alternative Act, it was uncommon to come across anybody with out a skilled labor curiosity who had ever heard of the laws, which attracted solely lackluster support from the Obama White House and died in the Senate.

At current, the Biden-supported laws geared toward strengthening the proper to decide on a union, the Defending the Proper to Arrange (PRO) Act, is firmly on the again burner regardless of support from a majority of voters.

In the face of opposition from Republicans and three Democrats, the laws is seen as a long shot in the Senate, which traditionally has been the graveyard for labor reforms. The PRO Act would possibly equally die there, though pro-union advocates hope that significant monetary penalties for employer violations will at the least make it into the $2 trillion Build Back Better bill.

For the PRO Act to turn into a reside proposition, it could possible have to convert its common help into stress on members of Congress.

That is the solely manner, for my part, to realize significant change and make unionizing simpler.

Headlines that target the coercive energy that big firms like Amazon exert over staff taking part in elections may go some strategy to bolster support for union drives.

Labor is sizzling

Unions are set to proceed to be a speaking level in the nationwide media with the Starbucks vote.

The espresso chain had been engaged in what was described as “aggressive” anti-union tactics forward of the vote, together with forcing workers to attend mandatory anti-union meetings. Though it includes only some dozen staff, the Staff United labor union victory at Starbucks in Buffalo is seen as one of the most necessary labor organizing victories in a number of a long time.

Company America has employed brutal anti-union campaigns for decades. What has modified, from my perspective, is that such actions are now seen as newsworthy—at the least when the firms concerned are family names.


This protection gives a stark distinction to previous media protection, which often depicted unionized workers as “overpaid, grasping, and undeserving of their wealth.”

In the phrases of a New York Times article from November 7, 2021, the “media loves labor now.”

Speaking union

Along with Amazon and Starbucks, in latest months an increasing quantity and selection of workers have been speaking about forming unions at their very own workplaces. In the previous few months alone we have seen media, tech, and museum workers type unions and both stage or threaten strikes.

Protection of the union marketing campaign at Amazon is one motive speak of unionizing is seemingly spreading. However there are different components, together with the Covid-19 pandemic, which has spurred quite a few labor fights—big and small—and security struggles by Amazon warehouse workers and Amazon-owned Whole Foods workers. In the meantime, the introduction of social media has made it simpler to create buzz round pro-union campaigns, corresponding to the recent “#Striketober” hashtag campaign.

Organizing, it seems, may be contagious—beneath the proper circumstances.

Seizing the second?

It’s not but clear that unions and their allies can capitalize on this obvious newfound public consideration and convert it into elevated membership ranges or adjustments in laws.

However I imagine we are at a singular second in U.S. labor historical past. The query is, will unions take benefit of the elevated media consideration—and the damaging headlines for high-profile firms trying to quash staff’ rights—and spur a brand new period of labor activism?

John Logan is professor and director of labor and employment research, San Francisco State University.

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