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Why It’s Important To Have an Employee-First Mindset with Business Decisions

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Dan Matthews

One of the most pertinent challenges businesses are facing today is the shift in employee mindset.

Employees are fighting for changes in the workplace that benefit them more than ever. But unfortunately, businesses that aren’t taking this shift seriously are losing employees — and their companies suffer because of it.

The solution? Adopting an employee-first mindset when making business decisions. Having an employee-first attitude in business decision-making can benefit both businesses and individuals in the workplace. Let’s look at this in more detail below.

The Benefits of an Employee-First Mindset

Putting employees first in business decision-making is integral to the stability and longevity of a
company.

For example, let’s say a company leader decides to add an entire department to their
organization. They aren’t planning on hiring new employees, and they don’t tell their existing
employees this.

Now, their employees are bombarded with extra responsibilities and expectations. The
employees try, but eventually, the stress leads to exhaustion, burnout, and a decline in
productivity. And the new department never gets off the ground.

Employees will end up departing, leaving no one to manage the existing and new departments,
impacting the ability to maintain the operation, let alone expand it. Had the company leader
considered how this change would affect their employees, communicate with them, and put
support structures in place to navigate potential challenges, their business would still be in good
shape.

An employee-first mindset with business decisions also benefits employees. For instance, when
a business brings new employees on board without consulting their existing team, it can result
in employees feeling insecure and uneasy about where they stand.

On the other hand, let’s say a company considers how its employees can benefit from a new
team member and asks their existing team how they feel about it. In that case, it’ll help
employees warm up to the change and feel more involved in the decision. In addition, they have
an opportunity to give their input on who and what skill sets the team needs to move forward.

Ultimately, having an employee-first mindset with business decisions is the best way to ensure
both the business and its employees are wholly supported.

How to Ensure Employees Come First in Decision-Making

Business leaders that adopt an employee-first mindset in their decision-making can create a
workplace where employees feel appreciated, supported, and secure. But how exactly do you
ensure employees are more involved in and at the forefront of decision-making?

Make accessibility a priority.

It only takes one employee to not have access to and ability to engage with something or
someone in the workplace for them to feel like they aren’t a valuable part of the team. And when
employees feel undervalued, it affects their and the entire workforce’s productivity.
So, always consider accessibility when you think about how a decision will affect your
employees.

For example, if you’re redesigning your office, plan with your employees living with
a disability in mind.

Even business trips should be accessible to everyone. Every time your team travels, list the
accommodations each person needs and do your best to ensure they’re met, whether it’s
needing a wheelchair-accessible location, budget-friendly events, or accessible transportation.

Whatever your employees need, ensure they have it so they can bring their best selves to work
daily.

Prioritize employee needs and input when making changes.

When a company leader makes a business decision, it usually means something is about to
change. Change will affect your employees in one way or another. So, you need to consider
their needs and input before making any permanent changes if you want things to go smoothly.

For example, let’s say you want to ramp up your sustainability initiatives. These initiatives will be
much more powerful if your employees are on board.

So, listen to their perspectives about sustainability and suggestions on improving it in your
workplace, whether it’s moving to a green office space, using resources more responsibly, or
removing certain health risks.

Ensure your employees are heard when it’s time to make a change.

Employees are demanding change in the workplace. Businesses resistant to change will stifle
business and employee growth. So, don’t just allow employees to advocate for themselves.
Genuinely welcome it. They’ll be much more empowered and productive because of it.

This blog was contributed directly to Workplace Fairness. Published with permission.

About the Author: Dan Matthews is a contributor for Workplace Fairness.


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Independent Unions Are Great—And Proof of Labor’s Broken Institutions

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Hamilton Nolan

This year has brought a lot of stirring labor victories, a pace of union campaigns and strikes so frenetic that it’s easy to collapse in a puddle of undifferentiated cheering for stuff. The most important trend, though, has been the sudden rise of independent unions — organizing drives at untouched companies led by the workers themselves, not affiliated with any existing major unions.

The Amazon Labor Union (ALU) has been the biggest example of those, and an endless stream of others seem determined to follow in its footsteps. An independent union drive succeeded at Trader Joe’s, and they’ve popped up everywhere from Apple to Chipotle to Geico. Geico!

The rise of all of these independents is inspiring. It is the flowering of seeds that were planted by 40 years of rising inequality, and by the work of an entire generation of labor movement activists pushing unions as the solution. If we are being honest, though, the story of these independent unions is also a story about the brokenness of organized labor’s existing institutions. If we ignore half of the story, we won’t learn anything from this moment.

One thing that virtually every independent union that’s popped into being this year has in common is this: They are at places that should have been unionized a long time ago. I don’t just mean that in the generic sense of “all workplaces should have a union.” I mean that if America had a union movement with even a modicum of ability to do strategic planning on a national level, the big unions that already sit in these respective industries would have been working hard to build campaigns at many of these companies years ago.

United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), for example, is the grocery industry union. It should have been plainly obvious a decade ago, at least, that Trader Joe’s was a prime target: a successful, growing national grocery chain that also carried with it a cultivated reputation for caring about employees, as well as the community and social justice.

That is the absolute pinnacle of “characteristics of a company that should be a union organizing target.” The fact this country’s first Trader Joe’s union election happened in the year 2022 and was organized by workers themselves is a pretty harsh rebuke to the UFCW, which represents 835,000 grocery workers and has more resources than all but a handful of other unions.

Amazon? Apple? Chipotle? Geico? All of these are premier employers in industries that have existing unions. (In many cases, the existing unions have organizing drives at these companies themselves too: Communications Workers of America (CWA) is organizing Apple stores, and a Chipotle unionized with the Teamsters, and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) is still deeply engaged at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, and UFCW is organizing Trader Joe’s — all of which are good examples of the ability of independent drives to energize moribund sectors, or to pick up excess demand where existing unions don’t.)

The problem here is not the failure of individual unions, but of an entire union establishment that has for decades accepted the proposition that it’s the responsibility of workers to come ask unions to organize them, not vice versa.

Let us imagine an American labor movement that had 1) A genuine belief that it is the responsibility of unions to offer every worker in their industry a true opportunity to unionize, and 2) A rudimentary level of central organization and accountability that could exert some pressure on unions that weren’t organizing to do a better job. In this fairy tale world, it would still take bravery and hard work and idealism from workers at all of these places to undertake the daunting and uncertain prospect of organizing their workplace for the first time.

The difference is that they would have all had the card of a union organizer in their pocket.

Because the unions in their respective industries would have made a strong effort to organize them, and would have made it their business to ensure that all the non-union workers at those companies knew that this union wanted to organize them, so when the stars aligned and the moment arrived when employees were ready to take on the challenge, they quite naturally would have thought of the existing union as their first phone call.

There are heroic union staffers everywhere, but not nearly enough of them.

The problem is not the individual people — the problem is this sort of thing, which should have always been the top priority of a labor movement that has been losing density for decades, has not been much of a priority at all.

This is a portion of a blog that originally appeared at In These Times on September 19, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor writer for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere.


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The Strike that Started the Red Wave

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Jackson Potter

On Sept. 10, 2012, I joined thousands of my fellow public school teachers in Chicago and walked off the job. 

After facing 30 years of corporate education “reform” that demonized teachers and led to massive privatization of public schools across the United States, teachers everywhere were ready to fight back.

For many of us in Chicago, ahead of the 2012 strike, political developments had shown a range of possibilities for what that fighting back could look like. 

In Chicago, resistance to the attacks on teachers required us to defeat one of the most powerful Democratic politicians in the country (then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel), endure the largest closing of Black schools in U.S. history, and roar back from the brink of an effort to dismantle public education as we know it. But today, ten years after the historic 2012 strike, we have seen the educational justice movement mature and become stronger through a decade of struggle. 

The 2012 Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike is often referenced as inspiration for an approach to contract negotiations called Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG), where unions make demands that would benefit not just members but the larger communities that they engage with. For example, that year, teachers called for an end to privatization and austerity policies affecting working people, despite being legally restricted on what issues they could bargain over. And during contract negotiations in 2015, the CTU made proposals to pay $15 an hour to all school district employees, even those outside their own membership.

Stephen Lerner, a senior fellow at the BCG Network and an architect of SEIU’s Justice for Janitors campaign, has pointed to the CTU’s 2019 demand for affordable housing for all of Chicago’s 20,000 homeless students as emblematic of how the labor movement needs to call for what was previously considered outside the domain of traditional models of collective bargaining. 

According to labor historian Joseph McCartin and former President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Merrie Najimy, the new approach to bargaining has been adopted by teacher union locals who “understood that there was no way to confront the dynamics of austerity — and especially its devastating impacts on our most vulnerable communities — unless workers and those communities joined together around a shared analysis to advance common goals.”

As a result of the success by teacher unions in advancing social justice in their bargaining, unions outside of education have also begun to embrace the strategy. In 2020, around 4,000 Minnesota janitors from SEIU Local 26 led a strike that focused in large part on environmental justice demands. As reported in The Forge, “The demands included the creation of an Owner and Community Green Table; closure of the HERC incinerator, a major source of both greenhouse gasses and air pollution that harms nearby communities of color; and adoption of the union’s proposed Green Cleaning Training Program.”

A large part of the advance of social justice unionism over the last 10 years has been the use of internal organizing tools to cohere member sentiment around non-traditional demands. For example, in the years leading up to their 2019 strike, organizers with United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) held thousands of conversations — in person, on the phone, at rallies, in groups, and one on one — with members, allies and parents.

Through a coordinated contract campaign across its 40,000-plus membership, the union built broad consensus around demands that would have an impact outside the classrooms, as well as inside. And, on many fronts, UTLA saw major victories.

No fewer than 20 teacher strikes in the past ten years have injected hope and momentum into the labor movement’s landscape, and virtually all of them have adopted a social justice framework.

In most of these efforts, teachers have won because they’ve run strong contract campaigns focused on what organizer and author Jane McAlevey has referred to as “structure tests” — clear-eyed assessments of what it will take to win. Organizers engaged members to take part in escalating actions that advanced a clear set of public good demands. 

In many respects, our 2012 CTU strike was a defensive one. We fought off a full scale privatization of the district and an effort to greatly diminish victories won by over 70 years of bargaining history. In the intervening years, our union has gone on an additional nine strikes.

The last big strike that the CTU waged was in 2019, and in many respects it was the most transformational. We won a nurse and social worker in every school for the first time in the history of the union. We also saw additional social justice wins that established first-time contract provisions: services and staffing for homeless students, the first “triggers” to limit class sizes in 25 years, the first moratorium on new charter schools, as well as advances in bilingual education and the creation of “sanctuary schools” to protect undocumented students from ICE.

The next “structure test” facing Chicago teachers will be to challenge an unpopular incumbent in Mayor Lori Lightfoot in next year’s municipal elections. Empowering the working class and nurturing vibrant public schools will largely depend on having a progressive city government in Chicago.

If 2012 was a fight for the soul of public education, 2023 and beyond will be a fight to determine whether or not union power — locally and nationally — can truly translate into political power. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 12, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Jackson Potter contributed to In These Times and is Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union.


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Workers Need Stronger Labor Laws Now More Than Ever

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Nearly 20 years after the publication of Kate Bronfenbrenner’s groundbreaking report on the state of organizing, she testified this week before Congress to preview new data showing that working people continue to face significant barriers in their efforts to form a union.

Her testimony was given during a hearing before the House Education and Labor Committee on corporate union-busting and removing barriers to organizing.

Bronfenbrenner’s testimony highlighted that while election win-rates have increased, the level of opposition workers face has intensified. Her analysis is further evidence for why we must pass the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.

“Strengthening our labor laws has never been more urgent,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said in response to the new data. “The working people who keep our economy going each day deserve the freedom to join or form a union without intimidation and fear.”

All workers deserve dignity and respect on the job.”

Approval of unions has reached 71%—the highest rate in nearly 60 years—and a significant portion of workers report that they would join a union if they could. Despite this unprecedented period of organizing, with millions of workers standing up nationwide to demand fairness on the job, the conditions that workers face have not changed much over the past two decades.

Bronfenbrenner’s findings show that a majority of companies still hire union-busting firms to deploy aggressive anti-union campaigns to thwart worker organizing.

Rates of retaliation, coercion, threats and intimidation remain inexcusably high: 

  • Eighty-five percent of employers used captive audience meetings while 71% used one-on-one meetings to harass workers. 
  • Forty-four percent interrogated workers about union activity. 
  • Forty-five percent threatened workers with plant closings, outsourcing or contracting out of their work.

The evolution of technology has allowed employers to introduce newer and so-called softer tactics to prevent organizing. Bronfenbrenner found that surveillance of workers has doubled and this includes monitoring through phones, computers key cards, social media and more.

Email communication has jumped from 3% to 43%, and employers now use text messages 18% of the time to contact workers with anti-union messages.

While this data primarily shows employer opposition only after workers have filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), it does not reflect what workers know from lived experience—about how increased surveillance and other tactics are used by employers to mount anti-union campaigns even before a petition is filed.

These tactics continue to have a chilling effect on working people’s desire to organize and improve their workplaces. Workers have had to be more cautious in filing petitions for elections with the NLRB because employer misconduct so often precludes a fair election. 

And even when workers are successful in organizing by going through the NLRB election process, only 36% of elections result in a first contract within the first year while 44% still do not have a union contract within three years.

Without strong labor laws, workers will remain vulnerable to corporate abuse and overreach. Building a more equitable economy requires that employers be held accountable for violating workers’ rights.

This blog originally appeared on September 15, 2022 at AFL-CIO. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Julie Farb is a content contributor for AFL-CIO.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions to learn more about workers’ rights.


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Why Baseball Minor Leaguers Voted to Unionize

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Minor league baseball has long been notorious for its low wages and grueling working conditions. 

But that could soon change, as players are on the brink of one of the most sweeping unionization drives that professional sports has seen in years.

On Tuesday, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) announced that more than half of minor league players voted to unionize and that it is seeking voluntary recognition from Major League Baseball (MLB) to represent minor leaguers. If the league refuses, a National Labor Relations Board election that would provide a referendum on the state of the changing sports labor landscape is the likely next step. 

Dr. Travers, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Simon Fraser University who uses a single name, said that sport has long been treated as a kind of ?“quasi profession” with different cultural norms than many other industries?—?but that appears to be changing. 

“There’s an ideology of luck,” they said. ?“There’s this idea of, ?‘We’re just so lucky, we’re so grateful to even have a chance at this dream,’ but if you actually look at what’s happening, you have a labor pool that is vastly under-remunerated, who don’t have the same protections that workers in other sectors do.”

Rise in Athletes Unionizing

Athletes across sports appear to be wising up.

The U.S. women’s national soccer team won an equal pay agreement in their most recent collective bargaining agreement. National Basketball Association players organized around the racial justice uprisings of 2020, while college athletes are now being compensated for the use of their name and likeness. 

The rise in organizing in sports has coincided with a massive surge in labor activity across the country, which has seen labor unions hit their highest approval rating since 1965. 

Baseball, whose extensive and precarious minor league system is perhaps unrivaled in American professional sports, has been particularly ripe for collective action. 

“Baseball’s minor leagues have long been a place of hyper exploitation, where ?‘disposable populations’ essentially grind out a living under extraordinarily difficult conditions and where baseball brass, the people who run the sport, keep players in line in a certain respect through poverty wages,” said Jules Boykoff, professor of politics at Pacific University. 

Fighting for Higher Wages

That is no exaggeration. While the average value of an MLB franchise is more than $2 billion, most minor league players make, on average, less than $14,000 per year?—?and are only paid during the regular season and not for work during spring training or the offseason. This is by design: in 2018, the MLB successfully lobbied Congress to pass legislation exempting baseball players from the federal minimum wage and collecting overtime pay. 

Groups of minor league players and activists have been organizing for years, but Boykoff said it’s no coincidence that the momentum behind organizing minor league baseball has crescendoed as the broader labor movement has grown in strength. 

Indeed, the push to unionize minor league players comes as the MLBPA this week took a significant step to align itself with the broader labor movement and announced its affiliation with the AFL-CIO.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler pledged in a statement announcing the MLBPA’s affiliation that the union would ?“bring our strength” to the fight to organize minor league baseball, while MLBPA Executive Director Tony Clark told HuffPost?’s Dave Jamieson that his union wants to be ?“part of the broader labor discussion.”

The new affiliation promises to not only lend organizing muscle to the minor league unionizing fight, but to also situate major league players in the same union as a number of stadium concession workers represented by UNITE HERE, who have notably agitated this year for better wages and working conditions in places like Los Angeles. 

Baseball Legislation

The new alignment with the broader labor movement also comes as Congress has threatened to revoke Major League Baseball’s unique antitrust exemption for its treatment of the minor league’s franchises and players, which MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said would cause irreparable harm in a July letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In March, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced legislation called the Save American Baseball Act which would eliminate the exemption. At the time, he said, ?“These are baseball oligarchs who, over the last year, eliminated their affiliation with over 40 minor league teams, not only causing needless economic pain and suffering, but also breaking the hearts of fans in small and mid-sized towns all over America.”

Boykoff said that federal legislation revoking the antitrust exemption could go a long way in shoring up labor protections for players as well as potentially protecting communities who value baseball as more than a means of enriching ultra-wealthy owners, as Major League Baseball angles to eliminate minor league teams and jobs to save money in the coming years.

Players are Workers

Ryan Gauthier, a lawyer and professor at Thompson Rivers University, said that if the unionization push is successful and players win living wages, Major League Baseball may retaliate by contracting more teams, much as Starbucks has closed a number of newly unionized stores this year. 

At the same time, that threat of organizing might make the security of union protections all the more attractive in an industry long sustained by players living on the edge. 

“I think a lot of athletes in the past were very much, ?‘I’m lucky to do this, it’s for the love of the game, thank you Mr. Owner for giving me my opportunity, I’d gladly do this for free,’” Gauthier said. ?

“But I think a lot of players realize now: they’re workers.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 8, 2022. Published with permission.

About the Author: Abe Asher is a journalist whose reporting on politics, protest, and the climate has been published in The Nation, VICE News, the Portland Mercury, and other outlets.


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American Workers are Transforming the Economy

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Liz Shuler

In just one second, Amazon’s executive chairman Jeff Bezos makes nearly $2500. That’s four times the weekly pay of an Amazon delivery or warehouse worker toiling in the sweltering summer heat.

Last year alone $6.5 trillion flowed from the bottom 90% of wage earners to the top 1%. That means the janitor who cleans our child’s school, the nurse who cares for our sick father and the grocery clerk who always greets us with a smile are struggling, while the wealthiest among us literally skyrocket into space with bottomless bank accounts.

Upward mobility seems out of reach for most Americans. Young people are backsliding with low wages, out-of-control housing prices and crushing health care costs.

But our story—the American worker’s story—will not be written by billionaires.

This Labor Day, working people are writing a new chapter infused with hope for a brighter future. We’re no longer tolerating being called “essential” one minute and treated as expendable the next. Whether on a manufacturing shop floor, in a high-rise office, in a corner cafe or Amazon warehouse, workers are transforming our economy.

Recent data shows that workers won 639 union elections already this year, the highest win total in nearly 20 years. What’s notable is that those victories occurred in many different industries. The heroic organizing efforts at Starbucks and Amazon have captured our imagination.

And there have been worker victories big and small across the economy this year. Like the 19,000 graduate researchers in California who won a union for more equitable treatment at universities and nurses in Maine and North Carolina who wore trash bags as makeshift protections against COVID before organizing unions to win safety protections every worker deserves.

All across America, workers’ power is growing by the day as more demand the rights and democracy on the job that the laws of the United States promise us all.

But too many corporations haven’t moved with the times. At every turn, working people meet resistance from our employers when we try to form a union. Public approval of unions is the highest in my lifetime, a 57-year peak according to a 2022 Gallup survey released this week. Nearly 60 million workers would vote to join a union tomorrow. But far too few get that chance.

As president of the AFL-CIO, the umbrella organization of America’s unions, I am elected by everyone from soccer players to construction workers to educators to help all working people make our voices heard. My favorite part of this job is being on the frontlines of these fights with the workers who are leading them.

I see a lightbulb go off when people realize we don’t have to accept abysmal working conditions. Instead of quitting jobs in frustration, we can stand together as part of a union, and have the power to demand change.

Some corporate executives are evolving, like Microsoft President Brad Smith, who is respecting workers’ freedom to join a union. Microsoft worked with the Communications Workers of America to enter into a labor neutrality agreement at Microsoft and Activision Blizzard, because the company knows allowing workers to join a union is the best way for employers to count their employees as true partners.

But Microsoft is the exception, not the rule. Most CEOs still revert to a decades’ old playbook of stifling worker voice, often breaking the law to do so. When employers use retaliation, harassment and illegal firings to try to stop organizing, they reject the best path forward for an equitable economy and basic fairness on the job.

No worker should have to stand alone in the face of the power and ruthlessness of billionaire CEOs. That’s why the AFL-CIO is launching an effort this year to resource helping workers unionize at an unprecedented level, making organizing the center of everything we do as a movement.

Our new Center for Transformational Organizing aims to level the playing field by uniting our unions in strategic support of workers who are simply fighting for the American Dream of a better, more secure life.

Standing together, working people are raising wages that lift up entire communities. We’re solving climate change while creating good jobs with clean energy. We’re investing in the infrastructure that builds our nation’s future. We’re developing technologies like semiconductors to keep America globally competitive. We’re fighting for social and racial justice so economic gains are broadly shared. And we’re making workplaces safer, healthier and free from discrimination.

A more democratic workplace is coming. If you are one of the majority of America’s workers who are thinking about joining a union, now is the time.

This Labor Day marks the dawn of a new era of worker power. And we’re never going back.

This blog originally appeared at AFL-CIO on September 8, 2022. Published with permission.

About the Author: Liz Shuler is president of the 58 unions and 12.5 million members of the AFL-CIO, and the first woman leader of America’s labor movement. 


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This Labor Day, Starbucks Workers Host Union “Sip-Ins” Nationwide

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This Labor Day weekend, Starbucks workers across the country will be rolling out the red carpet to their supporters. About 100 of the coffee chain’s stores are set to hold ?“sip-ins” from Friday, Sept. 2 to Monday, Sept. 5. (To see a map of locations, click here, and for a full list, click here.)

Sip-ins are loosely modeled after sit-ins. They mark designated times when supporters of a store are asked to come in, order low-priced drinks or water, and leave big tips. The events provide an opportunity for baristas and their supporters to engage in conversation about labor conditions and build community. 

“I’m a little nervous, but we’re excited,” said Samantha Shields, a 21-year-old barista at a Starbucks store in Washington, D.C. Her store filed to unionize in late August and is the first to organize in the city. She’s worried about retaliation as a result, she told In These Times.

Labor Day Strikes

Meanwhile, several stores will also be on strike. Additionally, in several large cities, other major events are also scheduled, pointing to a more expansive vision of what the nascent union can do for Labor Day. 

In Boston, a labor rally, a rank-and-file breakfast, and a reproductive justice rally will precede sip-ins on Labor Day. Starbucks workers are also rallying at the state capitals of Oklahoma and Texas. And Colorado baristas will converge on a Labor Day parade in Louisville in remembrance of the early 20th century Coal Wars, says fired Denver barista Ryan Dinaro, 23. 

“The goal of this [day of] action is to empower workers on Labor Day, it’s to send a message to Starbucks that they couldn’t run their business without us,” says Collin Pollitt, a barista in Oklahoma City. “They need to be held accountable,”

On Monday evening, Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), the union behind the organizing effort, is planning to host a web-based event. The event is for attendees of Labor Day events to have an opportunity to tune in so they can watch and discuss together.

“We’re not only building a movement for Starbucks workers, we’re building a cohesive labor movement,” says Tyler DaGuerre, a 27-year-old Boston barista. 

The array of different types of events, dominated by the sip-ins, reflects both the desire for coordinated action and the roles that different actors are playing in the SBWU-backed movement.

Early Organization

Conversation about SBWU’s Labor Day plans began in the early summer. Individual leaders in the Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and New England regions of SBWU including Pollitt, Dinaro, and DaGuerre, respectively, are among those who helped create the iteration that now exists.

They eventually did so as part of SBWU’s National Contract Action Team, the body charged with planning escalating direct actions to pressure Starbucks to negotiate a first contract. Workers United, the parent union for SBWU, first introduced the idea of a broad wave of sip-ins, which then received broad support from workers. 

Workers in some cities have also hinted at more militant events to follow in the days and weeks to come after Labor Day, noting that the next few months are Starbucks’ high season, though details were not yet available.

In the Boston area, the day’s events are themed around intersectionality, with a focus on reproductive rights, among other issues. ?“So long as we’re upholding one system of oppression, we’re therefore justifying our own,” says DaGuerre. ?“So it really needs to be a collective movement of intersectional solidarity.”

In Oklahoma, Pollitt was mindful of the need to make Labor Day relevant to today’s workers and also emphasized intersectionality. He wants to ?“spark a national discussion about labor” after what he describes as decades of stagnation. In Pollitt’s state, workers are gathering at the state capitol.

Collective Effort

Boosting community support is a key aim of the sip-ins. SBWU has a goal of gathering 30,000 signatures to its ?“No Contract, No Coffee” solidarity campaign over the course of the weekend.

Such support often, but not exclusively, comes from Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) members and chapters. For example, Worcester DSA member and barista Cory Bisbee, 25, told In These Times that his chapter has made supporting the SBWU campaign a priority. That city will see a LGBTQ+-themed sip-in, with Labor Day coinciding with Pride week in Worcester, Mass.

An outcome of the planning in the New England region, says DaGuerre, is that stores seeking support have been matched up with community supporters looking to ?“adopt” a store to help it organize, taking advantage of resources that were already there but uncoordinated.

Not every store is able to take part in the day of action. Because much of the national plan depends on community support, many workers in more isolated locations likely won’t be able to participate. Others, like the Anderson store in South Carolina where workers are suspended and barred from entering any Starbucks, have to take into account the impact of previous union-busting tactics by the company.

But for those who are able to participate, some see it as an opportunity to step up their impact in the innovative campaign to unionize Starbucks. 

“A bunch of Gen Z kids have banded together and decided to stop accepting that Starbucks will refuse to pay us a living wage,” says Dinaro. ?“It’s truly inspiring and it’s a stepping stone to greater change.”

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on September 2, 2022. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Saurav Sarkar is a contributor for In These Times.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions and collective action to learn about your rights.


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How Employee Upskilling Prevents Disruption

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Upskilling isn’t just a benefit for employees to create a stronger team. It’s something that employees need to prioritize. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that it’s better to be overprepared than underprepared, and that is especially true of our careers. Staff need to be able to stay agile and competitive. Upskilling is one way to stay one step ahead when it comes to employment, as company requirements evolve and technology advances. 

With the World Economic Forum claiming that half of all global employees will need to upskill by 2025 due to automation and the rise in high-demand skills, there’s never been a better time to upskill to protect yourself against future disruption. 

Closing the Gaps

Businesses are realizing there are many gaps in their teams that need filling. With technology moving as quickly as it is, the after-shocks of the pandemic affecting customer demand, and the ways in which companies are operating, the gaps are becoming apparent. 

Wise employees will note the areas where companies are struggling, and the skills that are most in demand and work on acquiring them when it comes to filling those gaps. 

Having these skills in your back pocket means you’re in a position to pivot quickly and successfully, should you choose to switch careers, or if an opportunity with your existing employer arises. From technological advances increasing the need for skilled cybersecurity professionals, to the rising need for qualified electricians, there are various wide-reaching skills that industries are grasping for. 

Bring Value to a Business

Taking on new challenges and different roles gives staff the chance to gain new knowledge and grow in confidence, personally and professionally. Those insights can bring incredible value to a business. They make you an attractive candidate for vacancies or opportunities that arise on projects. 

When you upskill, you’re able to play an active role in a business’ transformation. That’s a huge confidence boost. 

Upskilling benefits you in gaining not just hard skills. Soft skills, such as teamwork, communication, and diligence, are helpful, too. You’ll have the confidence to work closely with colleagues, share your ideas, and offer a fresh perspective — something that companies are seeking out more and more. 

More digital literacy and flexibility across the team will help to transform businesses at scale, creating a culture of learning and putting both businesses and individuals in a stronger position if and when disruption occurs. 

Expand your Industry Expertise

When you see the results from your upskill training and how it benefits you in the workplace, you’re more likely to stay up to date with the trends within the industry as a whole. It is more likely to spark your interest and passion for the role and to encourage you to want to learn more. 

Companies want a knowledgeable and interested workforce. As an individual, having this broader understanding of your niche can help you stand out for all the right reasons — whether it’s bringing new ideas to a project that you’ve seen done successfully elsewhere or simply being more engaged in your work. 

Protection Against the Decreasing Shelf Life of Skills 

We’re in a period of rapid change and technology; Automation is moving at such an intense speed that it’s making some jobs redundant. Workers need to upskill to move into different roles, or they are at risk of being left behind or, worse, left unemployed. 

Millions of people could be left without a job if they don’t take the initiative to build their skill set and strengthen their CV to leave them in a better place for the future of work.

Since 2020, businesses in virtually all industries have a renewed appreciation for adaptability. Upskilling keeps you agile and ensures that whatever you can face anything with flexibility –, whether it’s economic challenges, a need to pivot in a new direction, or simply a desire to try something new. It encourages employee growth and professional development, and that in turn helps to enhance job satisfaction and morale.

Workers want to be respected and appreciated. The opportunities that upskilling can provide help to increase happiness in the workplace and aid career progression. It shows employers that you’re willing to put in the hard work and that you have the grit and determination to handle challenges with ease. 

Upskilling is beneficial for people of all walks of life, including those wanting to move up the career ladder, career switchers, and those wanting to enhance the skill set they already have.

But more than anything, upskilling can help to make employees more resilient against anything the future may hold, from shifts in demand, to technological advances and unforeseen crises like we experienced in 2020. It makes for stronger, more agile staff who can withstand changes with ease and confidence.

About the Author: Dakota Murphey contributed this blog to Workplace Fairness. Published with permission.


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Starbucks Workers Are in the Fight of Their Lives for a Contract

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There are still dozens of stores waiting for their elections, and more stores filing for election every week. These thousands of newly unionized workers are in the fight of their lives for a contract.

The company is fighting dirtier and dirtier all the time, from closing stores to firing more than 80 union leaders across the country to now filing suit at the National Labor Relations Board claiming that the Board itself is committing fraud by colluding with the union. Their campaign is getting more and more vicious.

[Corporate’s] theory of the campaign, in my mind, is to crush the momentum. They are counting on us not being able to continue to build and organize. They’re counting on the idea that there’s not going to be enough community solidarity to really stand up to their bullying, and that they’re going to be able to quash the campaign and wait it out and then decertify stores.

December 9 we’ll cross a year since the first stores voted for a union. The certification year ends at that point and the company can begin to run decert[ification] petitions. 

[Editors’ note: Under federal law, a union cannot be voted out, or “decertified,” within the first year of its having been certified. Often employers will stall on bargaining for a year so the decertification window opens, and covertly encourage workers to decertify the union at that point.] So we’re in the fight for our lives for a contract right now.

A National Voice

These workers have done a lot of work internally to build national structures so they are speaking powerfully in one voice to the company. There’s a national committee called the National Bargaining Committee, which is working hard to draft a set of bargaining demands. They’re going to bring it back down to the base [of workers] for revisions and then we’re going to introduce that same proposal at every store where we can get this company to bargain.

We’re going to ask the company to meet with the national bargaining committee. I’m assuming they’re going to say no. They want to bargain store by store. So workers are planning to coordinate with each other and put forward the same proposal over and over.

It’s going to take a hell of a lot of militant collective action and solidarity from the labor movement; community, student, and faith allies; and customers to move the needle at the bargaining table.

Pledge Creates a Rapid Action Network

That’s why we’re asking people to sign the No Contract, No Coffee pledge. What it says is we’re going to follow the lead of workers, and we’re going to support them in the way they’re asking for support. It’s our way of building a rapid action network for the campaign.

If a store in your community goes on strike, you’ll get a message over email or by text, whichever you prefer, saying, “Hey there’s going to be a picket line, show up in solidarity with those workers.” Or “We’re going to rally at the corporate office on this day.” Or “We have an action at the Mellody Hobson-owned Denver Broncos game.” [Hobson is the chair of the Starbucks board.] It’s a way to alert people about how they can support the campaign.

Sip-ins [where supporters gather in a store to drink coffee] are another way. Sometimes workers call for sip-ins to happen in the week before their election, to pump people up, or if they know there’s going to be a particular kind of union-busting in their store on that day. Some sip-ins have been effective in canceling [mandatory anti-union] captive-audience meetings.

There are lots of creative ways that customers are supporting picket lines [during strikes]. About 90 percent of picket lines have been successful at closing down the store. In some others, the company manages to get enough managers in the store to keep getting coffee out the window. But customers have supported in all kinds of creative ways, including finding ways to be disruptive in the drive-through line. These are not tactics devised by workers or the campaign at all, just things that customers are coming up with.

If you sign the pledge, the first thing we’ll ask you to do is to adopt a store. If you adopt a store, we’ll hook you up with one in your area that’s union, so you can find a way to support that store, and help create a system of aid for those workers.

Labor Day Plans

For Labor Day we’re really focused on having sip-ins at every single unionized or unionizing store. We’re going to try to do at least 300. Workers are also using that weekend to deliver petitions and hold marches on the boss. I would not be surprised if there are strike actions in protest of ULPs [unfair labor practice charges the union has brought to the NLRB] on that day or on that weekend.

We want to get 30,000 more signers on the No Contract, No Coffee pledge on Labor Day weekend. Because we know we’re going to need massive public support.

We have to bring a lot of economic pressure to bear on Starbucks. I think strikes are an important piece of that. But we need a hell of a lot of solidarity from allies in order to amplify the voices of workers at the stores that have organized.

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on August 25, 2022. Published with permission.

About the Author: Daisy Pitkin is the national field director for Starbucks Workers United. This blog is a transcription of her responses in an interview.


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Monkeypox Is a Workers’ Rights Issue

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As of early last week, over 11,000 cases of monkeypox have been reported in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus that causes the disease, which many cities and towns have now declared a public health emergency, spreads through close personal contact. In certain cases it can reportedly also transmit through contact with surfaces infected people have touched. 

While there are still many unanswered questions regarding monkeypox, some troubling dynamics are already coming into clear view: The recommended quarantine period for those infected is far longer than that of Covid-19 cases. This means those who contract the virus will either have to take substantial time off the job — often not a viable option for those without paid sick leave — or risk going to work while infected.

The virus has been found to disproportionately impact members of the LBGTQ community, who are also disproportionately likely to be poor or working-class. The muddled rollout of the monkeypox vaccine has already created logjams in access, and, as a result, it appears poorer Americans are more likely to be unvaccinated, increasing the hazards to their health. 

Covid Set an Example

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the risks to workers from rapidly spreading communicable diseases became painfully obvious. In addition to contracting and dying from the virus at higher rates than the rest of the population, low-wage workers without union protections also often experienced employment consequences. Some reported that they were forced to work with active Covid infections, while others were fired for taking leave or expressing concern about Covid precautions.

If workers do contract monkeypox, according to CDC recommendations, they may need to isolate for as long as four weeks while waiting for rashes that result from the disease to resolve. But the reality is that many workers will not be able to take that time off of work. Only 56 percent of workers are eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) protections — and these do not require paid leave.

“If employers throughout the country were required, as a matter of law, to provide paid leave to every worker who contracts Covid, I believe we would have seen more of an emphasis on protecting workers by preventing transmission in the workplace,” Matthew Cortland, a senior fellow at Data for Progress, told In These Times.

In March 2020, Congress passed paid leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. However, it expired in December of that year, and was not universal. Many Democrats also advocated national paid leave in their campaigns, but have so far been unable to enact the policy. Congress could pass similar temporary leave legislation, or it could commit to investing in long-term paid leave — a policy originally included in the Build Back Better package but excluded from the Inflation Reduction Act which was signed by President Biden on Tuesday. 

In response to these developments, some states have proactively developed their own paid leave programs. And unions have pushed for them in contract negotiations as well. ?“A workforce that is constantly being reinfected with coronavirus, because of a lack of workplace mitigation measures, including, importantly, paid leave, is an unpredictable and unreliable workforce,” said Cortland.

The Issue of At-Will Employment

But paid leave isn’t the only problem. ?“The background rule of employment-at-will means that, even where these protections exist, workers feel vulnerable,” said Kate E. Andrias, Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Andrias is a coauthor of a 2021 report on just cause reform.

At-will employment, where workers can be fired for any reason so long as it doesn’t break the law, drives extreme precarity, especially for low-wage workers. This is because the risks of requesting time off for illness, complaining about working conditions, or reporting employers for wage, hour and safety violations are much higher. And, while labor organizing is a protected activity, employers can still develop pretexts for firing workers. Recent examples include Starbucks closing stores that were in the process of unionizing over ?“safety reasons,” and Amazon firing union organizer Chris Smalls after he spoke out about safety on the job.

Unionized workers, however, generally enjoy the protections of just cause in their collective bargaining agreements. Under just cause, employers must document and demonstrate reasons for employment termination, and workers have access to protections throughout the process, including a union representative in any disciplinary meetings. Just cause offers greater cover to workers who want to advocate in the workplace, while collective bargaining agreements offer other critical protections and benefits, often including paid leave. 

The bubbling outbreak of monkeypox illustrates that both paid leave and just cause are public health issues for workers and the people they interact with. And, as with Covid-19, the risks are higher for some workers than others. ?“Being immunocompromised and working in a public facing role that requires interaction with fomites, for example, in food service, is not sufficient to qualify for vaccination against monkeypox,” said Cortland.

Minorities’ Jobs and Health are at Risk

Disability and health status are not the sole risk factors. Members of the LGBTQ community, who are more likely overall to work in low-wage jobs, are at greater risk of contracting monkeypox — especially gay men, who have been prioritized for vaccines in some cities due to high numbers of cases in their communities. For those who cannot get vaccinated, though, going to work can become extremely stressful and potentially dangerous, even more so when employers don’t provide paid leave. 

Gay or straight, disabled or not, without just cause protections and paid leave, those workers may not feel comfortable speaking out — and may not be able to take time off if they get sick. Other workers could then contract the virus and take it home to vulnerable family members and communities. 

In the short term, unions can help secure key protections for workers facing isolation after infection or exposure, including building just cause and paid leave into the bargaining process. And right now, economic conditions are ripe for more organizing. ?“Low unemployment rates give workers more bargaining power,” said Andrias. ?“The best way for workers to increase their bargaining power is to organize with their coworkers and form unions.” 

The high cost of Covid-19 to human health and society at large shows that all workers need protections including paid leave and just cause to ensure they are able to stay safe, just like their white-collar, desk-bound colleagues did for nearly two years. 

As the federal government struggles to respond to monkeypox, Cortland said, ?“workers have largely been abandoned. Even when infectious, many are forced to go into work, further degrading their health and imminently endangering others.”

This blog was originally posted to In These Times on August 16, 2022. Reposted with permission.

About the Author: S. E. Smith is an essayist, journalist, and activist is on social issues, with credits in publications like The Guardian, Nerve, and VICE. 


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