Should retail fear or embrace organized labor’s comeback?
In early April, workers at an Amazon.com warehouse on Staten Island voted to form the e-commerce giant’s first U.S. union, building on successful organizing efforts at Starbucks and leading to speculation that a new American union movement is underway.
At Starbucks, more than 180 of the company’s 9,000 corporate stores have petitioned for union elections with 16 voting to unionize after a unionization campaign went public last August. An REI location in Manhattan last month voted to unionize, as well.
The elections follow years of union decline with the share of U.S. workers in unions dropping to 10.3 percent in 2021, down half a percentage point from 2020 and the lowest rate in decades.
The tight labor market and pandemic-related work pressures, however, have created a rare opportunity for workers to rally around better pay and treatment. President Joe Biden ran on a promise to be the most pro-labor president, and a September Gallup poll found 68 percent of Americans approve of unions, the highest favorable since 1965.
The reason labor law reform proponents are hopeful is because the unionization efforts have been initiated by employees at the local level rather than the traditional centralized labor approach led by seasoned union officials. The local approach counters traditional anti-union tactics that contend outside unionizers fail to understand workers’ concerns and are only interested in dues.
Amazon in a statement said the company was “disappointed” with the vote’s outcome “because we believe having a direct relationship with the company is best for our employees.” It has launched an appeal.
The New York Times reported that Amazon’s “ability to speed packages to consumers is built on a vast chain of manual labor that is monitored down to the second. No one knows what will happen if the newly organized workers try to change that model or disrupt operations.”
Last Monday, Howard Schultz, Starbucks’ longtime leader, returned as interim CEO and told employees at a town hall meeting that he sees Starbucks as a pro-worker company “that does not need someone in between us and our people.”
- UNION MEMBERS — 2021 – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Statement from Amazon on Staten Island union vote – Amazon.com
- How Two Best Friends Beat Amazon – The New York Times
- Starbucks Hires New Strategy Chief as More Baristas Unionize – The Wall Street Journal
- Amazon, Starbucks and the sparking of a new American union movement – The Conversation
- Approval of Labor Unions at Highest Point Since 1965 – Gallup
- Amazon Intends to Appeal Union Victory in New York – The Wall Street Journal
- Amazon says landmark Staten Island union vote should be thrown out. – The New York Times
- Is Organized Labor Making a Comeback? – The Atlantic
- Is union’s victory at Starbucks a sign of things to come? – RetailWire
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will retailers likely be seeing unionization drives with greater frequency in the years ahead? How might tactics have to change to discourage such efforts, or should retailers be looking to work with unions?