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Why is there a union boom?

Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, on the left, speaks alongside Christian Smalls, founder of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), during an ALU rally in Staten Island, New York, USA, on Sunday, April 24, 2022.

Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images

After years of declining influence, unions are being reborn. Employees of companies across the country are increasingly organizing to ask for more benefits, pay and security from their employers.

Between October 2021 and March this year, the number of union representations filed with the NLRB increased by 57% over the same period a year ago, according to the latest figures from the U.S. National Labor Council. Remuneration for unscrupulous work practices increased by 14% over the same period.

More than 250 Starbucks seats have applied, and after the first victory late last year, 54 Starbucks-owned stores have officially organized. Amazon warehouse workers in New York City recently voted to create the first union with the second largest private employer in the United States and join the Amazon Labor Union. Google Fiber contractors in Kansas City successfully voted to merge their small office in March, becoming the first workers to negotiate as part of the annual Alphabet of Workers Union.

These efforts resonate with the general public. A Gallup poll last September found that 68 percent of Americans approve of unions, the highest of 71 percent in 1965.

So why are unions becoming popular again?

The Covid-19 pandemic

Experts say the biggest factor was the Covid-19 pandemic.

The pandemic was a wake-up call or a catalyst that evoked two points of view: “Is there another way to work and live?” and the relationship between employers and workers, “said Mark Pierce, former chairman of the NLRB and current Georgetown law professor.” Vulnerable workers – not only were they scared, they were angry. ”

“Covid was everyone,” agreed Jason Greer, a labor consultant and former NLRB field expert. “A lot of people said, ‘I see my family members die and my friends die, and we suddenly face our own mortality, but a lot of organizations still expected you to work just as hard or more.’

As governments and employers imposed new restrictions to slow the spread of the pandemic, and demand for services that allow people to do more from home, such as e-commerce and product delivery, grew, employees faced new challenges. Retailers were required to monitor the wearing of masks and check the status of vaccinations. Delivery and warehouse staff are concerned that they are not properly equipped with the necessary security features.

“We saw a tidal wave of activity in the first months of the pandemic,” said Jess Katch, co-founder and co-executive director of Coworker.org, which helps workers organize work. In three months, the band has used its website more than all previous years combined. “It was a clear indication that far more people wanted to speak out than before.”

Many of these workers reported their struggles through digital channels, which became a natural mood for all communication during the Covid blockade. “If you’re tracking the push from within Apple’s push at Google, I think it’s largely due to the use of digital channels like Slack,” Greer said. “It was this perfect storm of people who had more access to each other with tools in such an environment.”

At the same time, huge disruptions in purchasing schemes have brought record profits to companies such as Amazon and Google, which have been equipped to meet the needs of a society suddenly forced to stay at home. As a result, the distance between management and the rank and file has increased, experts say, adding that in many cases the salaries of managers have increased, while the salaries of employees have remained the same.

In one example of an insensitive executive who went viral, Better.com CEO Vishal Garg laid off 900 employees, or about 9% of the company’s staff, through a brazen video call to Zoom in early December.

Supports the political environment

The organizers also enjoy the favorable political environment they have seen for decades.

President Joe Biden has vowed to be “the most pro-union president ever” and has strongly supported the PRO law, which aims to make the union process easier and less bureaucratic.

Early in his term, Biden renewed the National Labor Council, dismissing NLRB adviser to former President Donald Trump Peter Rob shortly after taking office. Biden then appointed a new chief legal counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, a former union lawyer who makes extensive use of his powers over law enforcement.

“Significantly, Biden’s first action was to do so because he was sending a worker a message that the NLRB, even with its weaknesses, should not be dismantled from within,” Pierce said.

Biden aimed to meet with audiences in captivity, a common practice used by companies to thwart union efforts. The NLRB’s settlement with Amazon in December sent a message to other companies and union organizers that the NLRB would aggressively pursue violations.

On Thursday, the president met with 39 national workers’ leaders, including Christian Smalls, who heads the Amazon Labor Union, and Laura Garza, a union leader at the New York City Roastery Starbucks.

Contagious success

Media attention to the organization of employees – successful or not – also fuels the domino effect, experts say. They don’t even have to be successful, Katch said.

For example, employees of an Apple retail store in Georgia last month told CNBC that they were partly inspired by Amazon employees who were trying to merge a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. Derrick Bowles, a member of the organizing committee of the Apple Retail Union, said he had “great respect” for what the Bessemer staff had done – even though the union had not yet been successful.

In Seattle, Starbucks organizer Sarah Papin, 31, said she had contacted Verizon union members.

“We all ride between the same bad retail jobs,” Papin said. “It’s the moment we all realized it really sucks everywhere, so let’s just stay in one place and prove it.”

In early May, Starbucks said it would raise wages for full-time employees, double training for new employees and add a tip feature for credit and debit card transactions. However, he said he would not offer additional benefits to employees of more than 50 cafes owned by companies that voted to unite.

“We see social justice combined with workers’ justice, and it not only ignites but also yields results,” Pierce said.

Richard Bensinger, trade union organizer of Starbucks Workers United and former organizational director of AFL-CIO, believes most union workers are in their early 20s, which pushed him to believe they are part of “Gen U” for unions. According to Gallup data for 2021, young people aged 18 to 34 approve unions at 77%.

These young employees see each other’s victories as inspiration for their own, experts say.

Katch and Pierce cited the example of Google Walkout, which, she said, “was an important moment not only for the technology sector, but also for the history of the labor movement.”

In November 2018, thousands of Google employees in more than 20 offices around the world staged protests against the New York Times blast, which detailed how Google protects executives accused of sexual abuse by either keeping them in the states or allowing im friendly. departures. Organizers described it as a “workplace culture that doesn’t work for everyone,” and listed several requirements. Some eventually became California law, while others were included in an agreement with shareholders who sued the company over its handling of incidents.

This showed that employees of a large corporation can be organized through internal chat, spreadsheets and e-mail – in a matter of days, Katch said, adding that many people have seen images through social media.

“Shouts in the park about injustice or holding a banner in front of an object have a much greater effect when it’s online,” Pierce said.

CNBC’s Annie Palmer also contributed to this report.

Why is there a union boom?

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