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The Sign Says It All: How Unions Can Stop Employers from Crying Poor

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My wife and I were motoring down the main avenue in Alexandria, Virginia, in 2017 when I yelled out, “Stop! I gotta have this sign!”

Nancy pulled over. I jumped out and yanked out of the roadside a real estate sign that announced, “From the Upper $1 Millions, New Luxury Condos,” with a big arrow telling you to turn so you could buy one.

Back when we moved here in 1992, this had been an affordable place to live, just across the river from Washington, D.C. But soon after that, gentrification kicked in full throttle.

Today, working people are priced out of home-buying completely, forced to pay exorbitant and climbing rents.

I wrestled the big sign into the back seat. “We can show this to the politicians and bosses around here when they tell us they can’t afford a big raise,” I told Nancy, who works for the city of Alexandria as a paramedic and belongs to the Firefighters Union (IAFF). And that’s what we’ve done for the past five years.

Mayors, city councilors, and county commissioners have seen the sign. So have transit authority bosses, corporate managers, company negotiators, state representatives, and many, many rank-and-file members.

It gets attention. At first people are puzzled: “Why do you have this real estate sign here?” But everyone gets the point when I explain that the mortgages and rents are “too damn high” and working people need a big raise now!

Can’t Cry Poor

I took the sign to a union meeting with the workers of the Alexandria DASH transit company in 2018. Coincidentally, it was the day after Amazon had announced it was setting up a new corporate headquarters here.

I held the sign up as I laid out why we had to win the union authorization election by a big margin so we could win long overdue and major wage increases. Every head in the room was nodding—that sign said it all. Several workers volunteered that their landlords had already given them rent increase notices as a result of the Amazon announcement.

We won the election 9 to 1. The economic settlement we negotiated was one of the best in our international union’s recent history. The sign came with us to union meetings, city council meetings, and DASH board meetings. None of the powers that be wanted to cry poor in a city with this sort of tax base—not with that sign staring them in the face.

So if you see a sign like this in your town, grab it and put it to work.

This is a blog that originally appeared on Labor Notes on June 1, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Chris Townsend is the former national organizing director of the Amalgamated Transit Union and retired United Electrical Workers international representative.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on unions to learn about them and your rights as an employee.


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How Unions Are Fighting to Protect Abortion Rights

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On May 2, Politico issued a bombshell report based upon a leaked draft of a majority opinion by the Supreme Court fully overturning Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Roe v. Wade—a devastating repeal of nearly 50 years of federal protection for abortion rights. The decision is expected this month, but the unprecedented revelation triggered a political earthquake and widespread alarm.

Organized labor began to issue a slow wave of statements opposing the draft opinion and pledging support for abortion and reproductive rights. AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, the first woman to head the national labor federation, issued a statement on May 3 condemning the draft decision — a stark reversal of the AFL-CIO’s historic reticence on abortion rights. Even the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, a member of the typically more conservative Building Trade Department, issued a statement defending “women’s fundamental right to healthcare and bodily autonomy.”

The response reflects a significant change in organized labor. Some unions, seeing the threat of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, even intervened in the case early: AFSCME and SEIU signed amicus briefs supporting reproductive rights. But responses since the Politico report reveal some trepidation in the movement, with most unions making general statements in support of reproductive rights while a small number — such as the NewsGuild-CWA and Vox Media Union — have pledged more concrete action to collectively bargain protections for abortion.

According to Dr. Rebecca Givan, a professor of labor and industrial relations at Rutgers University, there’s a lot unions can do to protect abortion access. “I think that unions will try to protect access of their members through making sure contracts and health insurance coverage combined are sufficient to support anyone who needs access to abortion care.”

Unions like the NewsGuild-CWA are intent on doing exactly that. Jon Schleuss, the President of the union, described being stunned by the leak, but quickly realizing that action needed to be taken. “It was really important to immediately bring in members and other leaders in the Guild to start discussing how we collectively felt,” said Schleuss. “That way we could channel our anger and outrage into productive collective action.”

For the NewsGuild-CWA, strengthening existing collective bargaining agreements — like Givan suggests — is a natural starting point for discussing how unions can protect abortion access. “We have a lot of members in states that have a lot of these trigger laws,” Schleuss explained.

“There’s three different newsrooms in Texas, several in Missouri, and we’ve got national members who are spread across the country. So how do we actually affirm abortion access inside our contracts?”

According to Jaya Saxena, a senior writer at Eater and activist with Vox Media Union, workers are facing similar challenges protecting a dispersed membership spread across states with trigger laws. “We’re an extremely remote company,” said Saxena. “Vox Media has headquarters in New York and D.C., but there are a lot of people who work from home and work in different states.”

Vox workers had anticipated an attack on abortion rights, and had already made proposals strengthening abortion access for their members. In addition to ensuring that health insurance covers the cost of abortions, they’re looking at the broader question of access, such as assistance and financial support to employees who have to travel from states where abortion care isn’t available. With the leaked ruling, workers are looking ahead at future attacks, like on same sex marriage. But, Saxena says, “It’s so hard to anticipate what might happen in the future and try to write a contract or proposed wording that would account for these awful hypotheticals.”

Securing a strong contract may prove to be a fight. The Vox Media Union has issued notice of its intent to strike if a new deal isn’t reached before June 13, when the current contract expires, though the strike does not appear to hinge on the reproductive rights measures. An impressive 95% of workers have signed strike pledges.

But fighting to strengthen collective bargaining agreements is only a starting point, according to Givan. She’s concerned about whether organized labor will organize to fight back, and whether labor will consider unorthodox approaches — like using union release time to do the abortion access work of providing transportation and childcare, similar to how many unions use release time for elections.

A key battleground, however, may prove far bigger than individual collective bargaining agreements: union healthcare trusts.

Trusts, sometimes called “Taft-Hartley Trusts,” are nonprofit entities administering the funds for health insurance and healthcare plans — usually covering multiple employers with employees represented by the same union — with trustees split between participating unions and management.

According to Form 5500s, a standard annual report on benefit performance and operations filed with the Department of Labor, just 10 of the largest union healthcare trusts cover approximately 581,000 plan participants, with nearly $25 billion dollars in assets. Millions of Americans are covered by union healthcare trusts, some of which — like the 1199SEIU National Benefit Fund, which covers approximately 154,000 plan participants — already guarantee abortion coverage.

However, not all do: The United Food and Commercial Workers and Food Employers Benefit Fund explicitly excludes medications that induce abortion from prescription drug coverage, and the Teamsters Health and Welfare Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity excludes elective abortion.

How far unions go to defend abortion access, either at the bargaining table or elsewhere, remains to be seen. Givan thinks that the muted response from some segments of organized labor demonstrates profound anxiety about the November midterm elections.

This is a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on June 8, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: C.M. Lewis is a contributor for In These Times, an editor of Strikewave, and a union activist in Pennsylvania.

View Workplace Fairness’ page on unions if you are interested in learning more about them.


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The Amazon Labor Union Victory Shows That Jurisdiction Is Dead

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Hamilton Nolan

When news spread April 1 that the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU) had won its union election at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island in New York, the initial response from anyone who supports the labor movement was exultation at this unprecedented — and unexpected — victory for the working class.
he secondary response was a collective “In your face!” to mega-billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who was shown that all the money in the world can’t crush the will for a union.

Now, we can all move on to what should be the next response: Forcing the union establishment to take a long, hard look at what it needs to change.

The ALU — a project of current and former Amazon workers as well as committed volunteer organizers — succeeded in organizing Amazon before any big, well-funded union could. That fact has produced a million insta-analyses: “They were in New York City, not Alabama — so they had the easiest target!” “The ALU was led by cool younger people — old union bureaucrats must be purged!” Etc.

Rather than indulge in that particular argument, I propose an adjacent conclusion that I think will hold true no matter where anyone lands on the specific tactical questions about the ALU victory. This is the lesson the union world should take from the ALU’s accomplishment: Jurisdiction is dead. By this I mean that all of the time unions spend arguing with one another over who has the right to organize which workers, in which industry, at which company is one gargantuan waste of time. Stop it. It’s useless. It is, in essence, a bunch of drivers arguing over a single parking space in one corner of a vast, empty parking lot. While an asteroid is approaching. It is not something that should be on the list of top 100 priorities for labor, given the current situation.

Who cares about jurisdiction in the first place? Well, many major unions consider this parochial concern to be the most important reason for the AFL-CIO to exist — to serve as a traffic cop, arbitrating petty arguments between unions that want to organize the same place. Inherent in this perspective is the belief that other things the central body of the labor movement could be doing — like, for example, building multi-union coalitions capable of organizing powerful employers like Amazon — are less important than this traffic cop role.

What has this approach gotten us?

It has gotten us a nation in which barely one in ten workers (including barely 6 percent of private sector workers) are union members, while economic inequality has been rising for decades. The idea that unions should have the right to lay claim to particular industries where 90 percent of workers are not union members is farcical. A perfect illustration of this absurdity is the fact that, in March, new Teamsters president Sean O’Brien told Bloomberg he “wants the Teamsters to be the only union that organizes workers at Amazon’s fulfillment centers and sorting hubs.” Less than two weeks later, the independent ALU had actually unionized an Amazon fulfillment center, which is one more Amazon fulfillment center than the Teamsters have unionized.

Unions serve workers. Not the opposite. What serves workers best is having a union now, not the abstract concept of a single union that owns their industry and may get around to organizing them years from now. Until union density in America reaches, say, 50 percent or more, we don’t need to hear any more jurisdictional arguments from unions about whose territory is whose. Instead, we need to see successful union campaigns in which millions of new workers are unionized.

Want to claim “jurisdiction” in an industry? Then organize it. Otherwise, make way for those who will.

To the credit of America’s union leaders, their public reaction to the ALU victory has uniformly been one of support. But that same victory throws into relief how pressing it is for those same unions to change the way they’ve been doing business for the past half century. No more individual fiefdoms jealously guarding their own shrinking islands of union territory, while the majority of working people flounder with no support from organized labor. The ALU inspired us all by unionizing the first 8,000 Amazon workers in the United States. Organizing the next 800,000 will require the combined efforts of many unions, and then some.

Rich, ruthless, and omniscient companies like Amazon will not be organized solely with GoFundMe donations, as the Staten Island warehouse was. Now is the time for the labor movement to start building multi-union coalitions capable of tackling employers on a national scale, and keeping up the fight long enough to win contracts in the face of endless litigation — think something like the Change to Win coalition, but more active, and aimed at individual companies.

Building multi-union coalitions requires unions to recognize the futility of arguing over jurisdiction, and instead do the opposite: Combine forces and organize without freaking out over who gets to put their label on the end product.

ALU leader Chris Smalls, whose vision made the Amazon union victory a reality, has already become a celebrated figure. In the end, his greatest contribution to the labor movement might be that he’s served as a blaring wake-up call. There is no room for egos or territorialism in a country of 10 percent union density. This fight is going to be expensive. Everyone, ante up.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on May 18, 2022. Reprinted 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 Amazon Labor Union Victory Shows That Jurisdiction Is Dead

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Hamilton Nolan - In These Times

No more arguing over territory or industries—we need multi-union coalitions capable of organizing on a national scale.

When news spread April 1 that the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU) had won its union election at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island in New York, the initial response from anyone who supports the labor movement was exultation at this unprecedented?—?and unexpected?—?victory for the working class. 

The secondary response was a collective ?“In your face!” to mega-billionaire Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who was shown that all the money in the world can’t crush the will for a union. 

Now, we can all move on to what should be the next response: Forcing the union establishment to take a long, hard look at what it needs to change. 

The ALU?—?a project of current and former Amazon workers as well as committed volunteer organizers?—?succeeded in organizing Amazon before any big, well-funded union could. That fact has produced a million insta-analyses: ?“They were in New York City, not Alabama?—?so they had the easiest target!” ?“The ALU was led by cool younger people?—?old union bureaucrats must be purged!” Etc.

Rather than indulge in that particular argument, I propose an adjacent conclusion that I think will hold true no matter where anyone lands on the specific tactical questions about the ALU victory. This is the lesson the union world should take from the ALU’s accomplishment: Jurisdiction is dead. By this I mean that all of the time unions spend arguing with one another over who has the right to organize which workers, in which industry, at which company is one gargantuan waste of time. Stop it. It’s useless. It is, in essence, a bunch of drivers arguing over a single parking space in one corner of a vast, empty parking lot. While an asteroid is approaching. It is not something that should be on the list of top 100 priorities for labor, given the current situation.

Who cares about jurisdiction in the first place? Well, many major unions consider this parochial concern to be the most important reason for the AFL-CIO to exist?—?to serve as a traffic cop, arbitrating petty arguments between unions that want to organize the same place. Inherent in this perspective is the belief that other things the central body of the labor movement could be doing?—?like, for example, building multi-union coalitions capable of organizing powerful employers like Amazon?—?are less important than this traffic cop role. 

What has this approach gotten us?

It has gotten us a nation in which barely one in ten workers (including barely 6 percent of private sector workers) are union members, while economic inequality has been rising for decades. The idea that unions should have the right to lay claim to particular industries where 90 percent of workers are not union members is farcical. A perfect illustration of this absurdity is the fact that, in March, new Teamsters president Sean O’Brien told Bloomberg he ?“wants the Teamsters to be the only union that organizes workers at Amazon’s fulfillment centers and sorting hubs.” Less than two weeks later, the independent ALU had actually unionized an Amazon fulfillment center, which is one more Amazon fulfillment center than the Teamsters have unionized. 

Unions serve workers. Not the opposite. What serves workers best is having a union now, not the abstract concept of a single union that owns their industry and may get around to organizing them years from now. Until union density in America reaches, say, 50 percent or more, we don’t need to hear any more jurisdictional arguments from unions about whose territory is whose. Instead, we need to see successful union campaigns in which millions of new workers are unionized.

Want to claim ?“jurisdiction” in an industry? Then organize it. Otherwise, make way for those who will. 

To the credit of America’s union leaders, their public reaction to the ALU victory has uniformly been one of support. But that same victory throws into relief how pressing it is for those same unions to change the way they’ve been doing business for the past half century. No more individual fiefdoms jealously guarding their own shrinking islands of union territory, while the majority of working people flounder with no support from organized labor. The ALU inspired us all by unionizing the first 8,000 Amazon workers in the United States. Organizing the next 800,000 will require the combined efforts of many unions, and then some.

Rich, ruthless, and omniscient companies like Amazon will not be organized solely with GoFundMe donations, as the Staten Island warehouse was. Now is the time for the labor movement to start building multi-union coalitions capable of tackling employers on a national scale, and keeping up the fight long enough to win contracts in the face of endless litigation?—?think something like the Change to Win coalition, but more active, and aimed at individual companies. 

Building multi-union coalitions requires unions to recognize the futility of arguing over jurisdiction, and instead do the opposite: Combine forces and organize without freaking out over who gets to put their label on the end product.

ALU leader Chris Smalls, whose vision made the Amazon union victory a reality, has already become a celebrated figure. In the end, his greatest contribution to the labor movement might be that he’s served as a blaring wake-up call. There is no room for egos or territorialism in a country of 10 percent union density. This fight is going to be expensive. Everyone, ante up.

This post originally appeared at In These Times on May 18, 2022. Reprinted 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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Unionized nursing homes were safer in the pandemic, this week in the war on workers

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Laura Clawson

Unions have increasingly bargained for the common good in recent years, as when teachers negotiate lower class sizes and more school nurses or counselors, or nurses negotiate for improved staffing ratios so they can give every patient the attention they deserve.

Union opponents often try to claim that these are really self-interested measures that only benefit workers (as though there’s anything wrong with benefiting workers), not also students and patients. These are of course the same people who always come up with excuses for how larger classes and more patients per nurse are reasonable, as they are hostile not just to workers but to investments in the public good.

All of which is to set up why this study of resident mortality and worker infection rates in union versus nonunion nursing homes in 2020-2021 is interesting and important.

As the study, by Adam Dean, Jamie McCallum, Simeon Kimmel, and Atheendar Venkataramani notes, “nursing home residents have accounted for roughly one of every six COVID-19 deaths in the United States,” making nursing homes a major site of mortality.

So, how did union and nonunion nursing homes compare? After a lot of data and statistics, “we found that unions were associated with 10.8 percent lower resident COVID-19 mortality rates, as well as 6.8 percent lower worker COVID-19 infection rate.”

Imagine if 1 in 10 of the nursing home residents who died of COVID-19 … hadn’t.

Laura Clawson

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on May 14, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor. 


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The New Labor Movement Is Young, Worker-Led and Winning

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Katie Barrows

This year, May Day was celebrated during a historic moment for the American labor movement. Nearly every day, news reports announce another example of workers exercising their rights as nonprofit professionals, Starbucks workers, and employees at corporations like Amazon, REI and Conde Nast announce their union drives. The approval rating for labor unions has reached its highest point in over 50 years, standing at 68 percent, and petitions for new union elections at the National Labor Relations Board increased 57 percent during the first half of fiscal year 2021.

Three years ago, we (In These Times) wrote an op-ed about how young workers in historically unorganized occupations — such as digital journalism, higher education and nonprofit organizations — were beginning to rebuild the labor movement. Today, Covid-19 has changed the way that we relate to work and created new sources of economic anxiety, while exacerbating old ones. Yet, young workers continue to fuel the new labor movement as they form new unions to win back a degree of control over their futures in a world fundamentally altered by a global pandemic. With momentum in union organizing and worker activism still growing, it is important to recognize the ways that workers in every industry are helping the labor movement live up to its values and reverse the years-long decline in union density. 

Through organizing campaigns at the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union, we’ve learned that successful new organizing campaigns must be member-led. Recent organizing victories at Amazon in Staten Island and at Starbucks stores across the country have reinforced the importance of workers themselves being empowered to be the drivers of their own organizing campaigns. We’ve also seen this in other traditionally unorganized sectors, such as political campaigns, digital media and tech.

There are a variety of reasons why member-led organizing campaigns tend to be more effective. One is the commitment that worker-led union organizing requires — leading a union organizing campaign is not for the faint of heart. Worker-leaders must be dedicated, and their time and energy investment means they have more skin in the game. Additionally, these workers build genuinely supportive relationships with their coworkers through one-on-one conversations, working in teams on union materials, and happy hours that bring more workers into the organizing drive. The relationships built during a worker-led organizing campaign helps workers to feel supported, as they know that their coworkers have their back. This collective approach also solidifies workers’ resolve to push back on empty rhetoric from their employer.

Member-driven campaigns are also key to combating bosses’ anti-union campaigns. When workers are active in setting campaign strategy, reaching out to their coworkers, and driving the narrative of the union campaign, they can successfully push back on corporate union-busters’ messaging that the union is a “third-party” or “outside agitator” — because workers know that they are their union.

The significance of momentum can not be understated. In all of these newly organized industries, we’ve seen the power a single union victory can have when it sparks a new consciousness among workers who previously didn’t know they could join a union, or didn’t think unions existed that understood and could address their specific concerns. Union wins years ago at Gawker, the Center for American Progress and Kickstarter helped incite the momentum for new organizing, and laid the groundwork for the campaigns we are seeing today. 

We’ve also learned the importance of publicizing our unions’ tangible contract gains. Workers want to be a part of a union that’s effective at improving their pay, benefits, and working conditions, so we as a labor movement need to make the public aware of our wins. That’s why our union and others in newly organized spaces will shout our wins from the rooftops with press releases, social media posts, news stories, and through any other means that will spread the word.

Today’s unions are making incredible gains and raising workplace standards.

Katie Barrow and Ethan Miller

Today’s unions are making incredible gains and raising workplace standards. For example, members of our union at the Center for American Progress recently won a new contract that raised starting salaries by 20 percent over three years, secured annual raises of between 2-2.5 percent, and codified junior staff’s right to be credited on research and policy publications that they work on. Union members at G/O Media ratified a new contract that raised the organization’s salary floor to $62,000, includes trans-inclusive healthcare and prevents forced relocation for remote staff. At NPR, union journalists won 20 weeks of paid parental leave, a hiring process that commits to interviewing more candidates from underrepresented groups, and regular pay equity reviews. The more folks outside of the labor movement know about these victories, the more they will want to learn more about forming a union in their own workplaces. 

Millennials and Gen Z are excited, energized, and winning new gains and a new sense of power at work. For the labor movement to continue to grow, we must learn from each other, continue implementing the strategies that are winning union organizing campaigns, and support new, young leaders. 

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on May 9, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Katie Barrows and Ethan Miller are the President and Secretary-Treasurer of the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union, IFPTE Local 70, which is made up of the staff of 49 organizations in Washington, DC and across the country.


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Amazon Bites Back in Vote at Second New York Warehouse

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Luis Feliz Leon (@Lfelizleon) / Twitter

The Amazon Labor Union, after making history in April when it won the first-ever unionized Amazon warehouse, JFK8 on Staten Island, New York, was routed in May in a second election at LDJ5, another warehouse in the same complex.

Amazon waged a fierce union-busting campaign, and it worked. Out of 1,633 eligible voters, 998 cast ballots: 380 yes and 618 no. There were no challenged ballots, and two ballots were voided. The ALU’s lawyer, Seth Goldstein, has said the union will challenge the outcome.

Worker organizers faced an uphill battle in replicating their success at the second warehouse because it is relatively new, having opened in 2020, and its workforce is largely part-timers. LDJ5 also had fewer worker organizers than JFK8.

After the JFK8 vote, Amazon fired half a dozen senior managers. The company also fired warehouse workers and ALU organizers Tristan Dutchin and Mat Cusick. The union is launching a campaign to demand their reinstatement and that of other union supporters fired in what the union says is retaliation for their organizing.

Ahead of the vote count, I spoke with organizers Julian Mitchell-Israel, 22, and Madeline Wesley, 23, for In These Times. At the time they were hopeful about the outcome, but acknowledged they were in a tough fight.

“I think that after winning JFK8, some of us thought that LDJ5 would be an easy win,” Wesley said. “And what we realized was that we were absolutely wrong.

“Amazon is really angry at us for winning JFK8; they weren’t expecting it at all. And now they’re giving us everything that they’ve got here at LDJ5. They successfully rallied some anti-union workers, so we had to fight a lot of misinformation and rumors and lies.”

Mitchell-Israel said the campaign had lost ground when he and Wesley took three weeks off from their jobs at LBJ5 to help win at JFK8.

“In that time, Amazon planted a seed of a very deep anti-unionism in a lot of the workers here,” he said. “They riled up the people that were already against us to be more vocal. So when we came back into the warehouse, although some people were more on our side than ever, a lot of people were more against us than ever. It was one step forward, one step back.”

‘UNLIMITED CHANCES’

Nonetheless, Mitchell-Israel said these organizing drives have reinforced in him the lesson that, “when it comes to organizing, you have to be vigilantly kind. It takes discipline, and it takes a sort of militancy and love.

“The one time I snapped during this entire campaign, I said to a worker, ‘Why are you bootlicking Jeff Bezos right now?’ And I saw the hurt in his eyes after I said that, because I think he was genuinely curious about things and he was genuinely trying to understand.

“I went into my car and I cried after that, because I was saying to myself that that is the mistake that has stopped this movement from happening for so long.

“People need to have unlimited chances here. One of my favorite things that one of the other organizers said is that there’s no such thing as an anti-union worker—there’s just a misinformed worker. And I think that’s a fact, because you’re never going to work against yourself.”

This blog originally appeared at Labor Notes on May 13, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Luis Feliz Leon is a staff writer and organizer with Labor Notes.


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Starbucks is very unhappy about all the customers ordering drinks under the name ‘Union Strong’

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Laura Clawson – Netroots Nation

Starbucks keeps escalating its anti-union campaign, taking it ever more public and more blatant. From quietly shifting national-level managers into the first stores where workers organized, to firing pro-union workers, to interim CEO Howard Schultz whining volubly about the “assault” on Starbucks, the company has ratcheted up and up, and it’s not stopping.

This week, Starbucks announced pay raises and new benefits, including improved sick leave and credit card tipping—but not at stores where workers are organizing. It’s a direct bribe/threat: Stay quiet, and we’ll be nice. Organize, and get the short end of the stick.

Starbucks claimed that it would be illegal to unilaterally change conditions where workers are organizing, but Matthew Bodie, a law professor and former National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) lawyer, told The New York Times, ”If Starbucks said, ‘Drop the union campaign and you’ll get this wage increase and better benefits,’ that’d clearly be illegal,” and it’s “Hard to see how this is that much different in practice.” Starbucks Workers United has filed an unfair labor practice complaint over the company’s action, and has explained that while the company can’t unilaterally impose changes on a store that’s unionized, it can and should offer the changes to the union. That’s telling: Starbucks management is claiming that if it can’t act unilaterally, it can’t act at all, when really it’s time to start engaging the union as a bargaining counterpart.

Starbucks also took action against its own union-supporting customers. Many customers have been expressing support for the union by ordering under names like “Union Strong.” Starbucks is done putting up with that, instructing managers to not call out the names on those orders.

Starbucks even acknowledged, in a recent government filing, that “Our responses to any union organizing efforts could negatively impact how our brand is perceived and have adverse effects on our business, including on our financial results.”

The company knows this might not be so great for its image. And it’s not working. But executives are so committed to it that they’re even trying to silence customers.

About that “it’s not working” part: The union has a 90% win rate, according to a recent NLRB graph flagged by Steven Greenhouse. In recent days, that includes wins in several southern locations, including Tallahassee, Florida; Boone, North Carolina; and Farmville, Virginia, following an earlier win in Augusta, Georgia. On top of that, votes were held in four Massachusetts locations, and the union got a clean sweep, along with wins in Massapequa and Brooklyn, New York; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Plover, Wisconsin; and Summit, New Jersey. While many of the union wins have been blowouts, the few losses have largely had very close margins, and some votes remain uncalled because the number of challenged ballots could shift the outcome.

While Starbucks has been an ongoing drip drip drip of good news on the union front, the recent surge of worker-driven organizing did suffer a significant defeat this week when the second Staten Island Amazon warehouse to vote on union representation was a lopsided no. The fact that a group of workers forming an independent union and organizing against the multimillion-dollar union-busting campaign of one of the biggest companies in the world got one win remains massive, even if the second try didn’t replicate that success. But if the LDJ5 warehouse had voted to unionize, it would have suggested a truly seismic shift, especially given that even a small Amazon warehouse has as many workers as dozens of Starbucks stores.

This blog originally appeared at Daily Kos on May 5, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor. 


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Amazon Workers Decide Not to Form Union at a Second U.S. Facility—But Organizers Pledge to Fight On

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One month after making history by organizing the first U.S. Amazon warehouse, workers voted against forming a union at another facility in New York.

Update (May 2, 2022): Following a hard-fought campaign, the Amazon Labor Union came up short at the LDJ5 complex, with 380 workers voting in favor of the union and 618 against. In response, ALU founder Chris Smalls wrote: “Despite todays outcome I’m proud of the worker/organizers of LDJ5 they had a tougher challenge after our victory at JFK8. Our leads should be extremely proud to have given their coworkers a right to join a Union. ALU will continue to organize and so should all of you.”

After a stunning victory last month when Amazon workers at the JFK8 warehouse in New York became the first to unionize a company facility in the United States, the independent Amazon Labor Union (ALU) is hoping to notch a second union win at a neighboring sorting center on Staten Island—the LDJ5 warehouse.

The results of the vote are expected Monday. More than 1,500 workers began casting ballots starting April 25 and ending on April 29. Worker organizers face an uphill battle in replicating their success at the second warehouse because it is relatively new, having opened in 2020, and is comprised of a workforce that is largely part-timers. The second warehouse also has fewer worker organizers than JFK8.

Organizers say that the company’s union-busting has been even more aggressive at LDJ5, attempting to wallop the nascent union movement at the corporate behemoth.

Ahead of the vote, In These Times spoke to organizers Julian Mitchell-Israel, 22, and Madeline Wesley, 23, about their experience in the campaign and how Amazon workers are making history. 

Julian Mitchell-Israel:

Can you talk about why you are organizing inside the LDJ5 warehouse?

When it comes down to it, what we’re doing inside the warehouse is talking about what’s been taken from us. It’s listening to other workers, and it’s spreading the love. We are making everyone realize that the reason we’re fighting for this [union] is not some ulterior motive. It comes down to the bread and butter issues. And it comes down to the fact that we’re all being robbed in the exact same way. And the only way that we stop them is together.

From the time that you sent ALU founder Chris Smalls your resume to now, what have you learned in this whole process?

I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned how to talk to people that I would never have talked to before. I’m a born and raised New Yorker, I know how to talk to New Yorkers. But there’s a difference in terms of speaking to people about the issues. There’s a difference in speaking to people about overtly political issues and speaking to them about their day-to-day life, about their workplace, because it becomes very personal very quickly. 

And one thing that got reinforced for me is that when it comes to organizing, you have to be vigilantly kind. And it takes discipline. And it takes a sort of militancy and love. And that’s a hard thing to understand. But when when you’re up against misinformation, when you’re up against people that are violently anti-union, you have the instinct to sort of get on the defensive to go, “screw you.” The one time I snapped during this entire campaign, I said to a worker, “why are you bootlicking Jeff Bezos right now?” And I saw the hurt in his eyes after I said that, because I didn’t get it right then. I think he was genuinely curious about things and he was genuinely trying to understand. And it’s hard because, you know, Amazon has brainwashed all these people. I went into my car, and I cried after that, because I was saying to myself that that is the mistake that has stopped this movement from happening for so long. 

People need to have unlimited chances here. One of my favorite things that one of the other organizers said is that there’s no such thing as an anti-union worker, there’s just a misinformed worker. And I think that’s a fact. Because you’re never going to work against yourself. And so I think what I’ve learned here is that when you bring love to the table, and you focus on that as the prime motivator, there’s nothing that can stand in your way.

How do you feel about the vote? 

I think we could win this thing. I really do. I’m not confident, but I’m hopeful. We have an incredible amount of momentum on our side. I think if we had one more week, I would say we have it on lock. But we don’t. And so the question is just, “did we gain enough ground back?” 

Why do you think you’ve lost ground because of JFK8?

Maddie and I took three weeks of time off of work at LBJ5 to help run the campaign for JFK in the final couple of weeks. And in that time, Amazon planted a seed of a very deep anti-unionism in a lot of the workers here. They riled up the people that were already against us to be more vocal. So when we came back into the warehouse, although some people were more on our side than ever, a lot of people were more against us than ever. So it was sort of this one step forward, one step back kind of thing. 

Madeline Wesley:

Take me back to how you got involved in this campaign. And do you think you’re on the eve of, potentially, a victory?

Potentially? Yeah.

I got involved nine months ago or so. I spoke to Chris [Smalls] and I asked him a lot of questions. And he answered all of them. And so yeah, here we are.

What set of circumstances set you on the path to becoming a union organizer coming to New York?

I was a Wesleyan student in Middletown, Connecticut. And our dining hall workers are represented by Unite Here local 17. I got involved with a group called the United Student Labor Action Coalition. So that’s how I got involved with student labor organizing. And then I also got involved with Unite Here through that. I worked with local 26 in Boston and local 355 in Miami, and I was originally planning on staying in Miami. But I made a last-minute decision to switch gears and then do this campaign here in Staten Island with Amazon Labor Union after I got a call from my good friend, Seth Goldstein. Or, not one call—I got many calls from my good friend, Seth Goldstein, about this campaign. And I figured, at the end of the day, this is something that I probably only have one chance to be a part of. So I took it

What stood out to you about the campaign? 

I really saw the potential in this movement. I think one thing that really sold me was that it was a worker-led movement. This is the kind of thing that people like us only dream about—a truly worker-led movement against one of the richest companies in the world. It doesn’t come around that often. 

You wanted to be a part of history?

When I first started on the campaign, I figured that the odds were against us, and we probably wouldn’t win, but it was it was worth a shot anyways. And here we are.

How are you feeling about the vote today? I know the campaign has really heated people up. 

It was pretty intense for a while. But I’m so proud of my team. Because even though it was really discouraging a couple of weeks ago, and Amazon was throwing all of this shit at us, we stuck through it. And no one gave up. We all prevailed, and we chipped away at it one person at a time. And now we’re at this point where I feel like we’ve got a pretty good chance of winning. I mean, nothing’s certain. And it’s always kind of difficult to tell. 

What makes you feel confident about the win? 

Just people coming up to us and being like, “I was No [on the union], but then I saw that you guys weren’t just some outsiders, you were actually here in the building, you were actually Amazon workers.” And that made the difference for me, people coming up to us being like, I don’t say a lot, but I’m with you guys. I think over the past couple of weeks we’ve changed a lot of minds and hearts. And it’s the work of the whole team. 

Is there anything that has surprised you in this campaign at LDJ5? 

I think that after winning JFK8, some of us thought that LDJ5 would be an easy win. And what we realized was that we were absolutely wrong. Amazon is really angry at us for winning JFK8, they weren’t expecting it at all. And now they’re giving us everything that they’ve got here at LDJ5. They successfully rallied some anti-union workers, so we had to fight a lot of misinformation and rumors and lies. You always have to change your tactics based off what’s going on. What we found is that we’ve had to fight for LDJ5 just as hard as we had to fight for JFK8.

This blog originally appeared at In These Times on May 2, 2022. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Luis Feliz Leon is a staff writer and organizer at Labor Notes.


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The Campus Workers Withdrawing Their Consent

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A conversation with student and graduate employees about why workers are simultaneously on strike at two universities.

Right now, a majority of residential advisers at Kenyon College, organized with the Kenyon Student Worker Organizing Committee, are on an indefinite strike over unfair labor practices. At the same time, over 1,750 graduate student workers at Indiana University with the Indiana Graduate Workers Coalition are on strike, demanding that the university administration formally recognize their union, pay graduate workers a livable wage, and eliminate costly student fees. In this extended mini-cast, we talk about these important struggles with three worker-organizers across the two campuses: Molly Orr, a sophomore at Kenyon College who works at the Kenyon Farm and the Writing Center; Nora Weber, a fourth-year PhD candidate in Sociology at Indiana University; and Anne Kavalerchik, a third-year PhD candidate in Sociology and Informatics at Indiana University.

This blog was originally posted at In These Times on April 21, 2022.

About the Author: Maximillian Alvarez is editor-in-chief at the Real News Network and host of the podcast Working People, available at InThe?se?Times?.com. He is also the author of The Work of Living: Working People Talk About Their Lives and the Year the World Broke.


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