Labor experts say the growing push for unionization among hourly workers at some of the era’s most famous companies could become “the most important moment in the American labor movement” in decades.
Walmart Inc. Retailers. WMT,
and Target Inc. TGT,
Unions’ efforts were thwarted when they grew into corporate giants in the 1980s and 1990s, but today’s fast-growing companies are facing a huge boost. Amazon.com Inc. AMZN,
She was successful at keeping unions at bay until earlier this month, when workers were at her warehouse on Staten Island in New York City. Vote for union unification; Workers at more than two dozen Starbucks Inc. SBUX,
stores I did the same in recent months; And Syndicate efforts are beginning to spread at Apple Inc.
Retail stores as well as other large employers such as REI.
Although labor historians say the push is in its early days, Eric Loomis has also said that it could be as important to the labor movement as the organization of the International Guard Workers Union in the 1990s and 2000s, and could have additional significance due to the companies involved. .
The regulation of ‘famous firms in the new economy … is like the regulation of Ford F,’
and GM GM,
[starting] It’s in the 1930s, Loomis, who has written books on the labor movement and is an associate professor at the University of Rhode Island, told MarketWatch.
American automakers were the dominant companies in the nation’s most important industry in the early 1900s. Big tech companies occupy this place today, but unions have so far organized a fraction of the massive workforce of more than one million workers at one of the tech giants, Amazon. And to truly build on their early success at Starbucks, they’ll need to reach out to others with similar concerns and grievances in places like Walmart, which has defeated unions throughout its history.
What could work for unions and possibly lead to a domino effect: the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the labor market.
“If you see more gains, you will start to see waves of unions,” Loomis predicted.
Compare Amazon and Walmart
Having developed the most important US retail business since Walmart, Amazon finds itself at the center of a fledgling syndicate campaign despite fighting it just as hard as the brick-and-mortar retailer.
John Logan, professor and chair of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, said Amazon and Walmart are “the biggest and fiercest anti-union companies of their time.” “They were considered invincible.”
However, Amazon is now grappling with a union movement, as various factors converge to create what appears to be a perfect storm. Logan said that the organizers of the Amazon workers’ union are “intrepid” and young people are excited for one reason.
“Amazon believed it could do what it had always done and succeed in crushing the union,” he added. “But the ALU organizers were workers, so they had access to the workplace—the trade union organizers can’t—and they could talk to their fellow workers with strong authenticity and say, ‘We are just like you. We know what it’s like to work in this warehouse and not treat us with respect.’ I passed. “
Additionally, working conditions have received more attention in part because of the pandemic, including highlighting equality issues and the plight of wage workers.
“The pandemic and the labor market are intertwined,” said Rebecca Jevan, associate professor of labor studies and employment relations at New Jersey State University, Rebecca Jevan. “Front-line workers realized that their bosses didn’t care about their health and well-being…because their companies were making record profits.”
As an S&P 500 Index
Hitting profit margins beyond any historical performance in 2021And Amazon and Apple each made record profits of $33 billion and $100 billion, respectively. Starbucks’ 2021 profit of $4.2 billion was more than four times the previous year’s earnings. Walmart’s profit was down last year from the year before, but it’s still $13.7 billion.
Jeevan said workers are becoming more confident in standing up for themselves and organizing. “They can leave and get another job across the street,” she added.
Loomis agreed. “Maybe the Amazon worker will find another job now,” he said, adding that wages are rising and “there are more options for working-class people.”
On the other hand, a Walmart operator may not have the same options because of geography, Loomis said. Walmart stores tend to be located in rural areas or far from city centers, and in some places a job at Walmart may be the highest paying job available.
Last fall, Walmart said it raised wages for more than 1.2 million of its workers last year, and that its average starting wage in the United States was $16.40 an hour.
Walmart workers who have tried to organize over the years have faced massive opposition from the company, which in some cases has been accused of closing stores where its employees were trying to form a union. Loomis noted that when Texas butchers won union recognition in 2000, Walmart “simply got rid of butchers from all of its stores.”
This kind of approach isn’t likely to work at Amazon because of the difference between its warehouses and Walmart stores. Closing a warehouse would hurt Amazon much more than Walmart closing a store or department, so Amazon workers might feel more emboldened to speak out.
“It’s hard to close down distribution centers,” said Nelson Lichtenstein, a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara and author of books on business history. “The whole point of it is to be near a metro area…the distribution center is about 10 times larger than a single store.”
Current and former employees say Walmart workers remain frustrated with the regulation.
Cindy Murray has worked at Walmart as a partner for 21 years in Laurel, Maryland, and was a founding member of United for Respect in 2011. Since then, she said, the workers’ group — which started with financial support from United Food and International Federation of Trade Workers, but It is no longer backed by the UFCW and is no longer a union in and of itself – it helped secure wage increases, changes to the company’s carry-on policies and more.
“I don’t think we can be looked down upon,” she said. “We’ve made a lot of changes. But it’s great to see Amazon workers win a union [vote]. We just need the workers to come together and talk. “
But many Walmart workers are afraid to speak up — if they do, they become troublemakers, a former Florida Walmart employee told MarketWatch. Other employees on online forums, including those that MarketWatch has tried to contact, say they are afraid any talk of regulation could lead to them being fired.
said the former employee, who left the retailer last year but did not want to be identified because he was concerned about the possibility of retaliation against family members who continue to be employed by Walmart. He said that if any customer mentioned the word “union,” he and his other colleagues at Walmart were directed to stop talking to that customer and find a manager.
“If Walmart partners are allowed to talk about unions, I feel they will,” he added. “[A union] It will reduce the deterioration of workers, poor and unsafe working conditions.”
Walmart has not responded to requests for comment by press time.
Amazon has long been accused of anti-union behaviour. One of the leaders of the ALU is Christian Smalls, who was fired by the company after he organized protests over working conditions at his Staten Island warehouse during the onset of the pandemic. The ALU won a union vote at that warehouse earlier this month and is now preparing for a union vote at another staten Island warehouse.
When reached for comment, a company spokeswoman said Smalls was fired for violating quarantine rules. Amazon spokeswoman Kelly Nantel also said, “Our employees are free to choose whether or not to join a union. They always have. As a company, we don’t believe unions are the best answer for our employees. Our focus remains on working directly with our team to continue making Amazon a great place to work.”
In the absence of any similar union efforts known at Walmart, second-year employee Murray introduced a shareholder resolution calling on the company’s board of directors to create a Pandemic Workforce Advisory Board made up of hourly partners, saying the company should listen to workers on the front lines.
“I believe Walmart’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has failed in employees and the communities in which Walmart operates and created risk for shareholders,” its proposal reads, one of five shareholder decisions on the dealership.
In its response, urging shareholders to vote against the proposal, the company said, “We do not agree with the assertions in the proposal that our response to the global health crisis has failed our partners and communities.”
What comes next as union efforts expand will depend in part on how companies like Amazon, Apple and Starbucks respond. Liechtenstein said the concessions some companies have made during the pandemic, such as higher wages, do not address the biggest complaint of many low-paid workers — a lack of consistent, predictable hours as companies shift the burden of fluctuating demand onto workers. Fighting for regular work schedules is something the union will do.
“Wage increases are temporary and inflation can kill them,” Liechtenstein said. “The union will always be up against the administration.”
Because of that, San Francisco’s Logan said he expects companies like Amazon and Starbucks to continue to fight against the growing pressure of unions.
Additionally, he said, “The [National Labor Relations Board] Proceedings are too slow and the penalties the board can impose for breaking the law (such as firing union activist workers) are too weak, and both firms have law firms that are expert at exploiting every weakness and every loophole in the law. “
Then there is the timing. Union momentum may also be affected by the possibility of a less labor-friendly political climate, which could start in November if Republicans regain control of the US House of Representatives. This could mean pressure on the NLRB and things like “bigger delays to elections and hearings and bring back jobs in campaigns like Starbucks,” Logan said.
When reached for comment on the efforts of retail labor unions, an Apple spokesperson said the company is offering “very strong compensation and benefits” to its retail employees. He confirmed that hourly wages in Apple stores start at $20 an hour. “We deeply appreciate everything they do for Apple,” he added.
Starbucks and REI did not respond to requests for comment on union efforts at their stores.
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