After years of decline, the American labor movement is experiencing a resurgence, with an increase in popularity of unions and organizing workers.
But the corporate pushback in America has been fierce, and has come amid a allegations of union-busting, and brutal campaigns to try and discourage workers from organizing.
An August 2021 poll conducted by Gallup found support for labor unions at their highest point in the US since 1965, with 68% support in the US. Labor unions were the only institution for whom Americans’ approval did not decline over the past year, in a June poll on confidence for 16 major US institutions.
During the first three-quarters of the fiscal year, the National Labor Relations reported an increase in union election petitions by 58%, up to 1,892 from 1,197.
The NLRB is now pushing for increased funding to handle the surge in labor activity. But labor law reform has not been able to get through the US Senate, despite being passed in the House.
Some of the largest US corporations and brands have seen workers organize for the first time ever.
After the first corporate run Starbucks in the US won its union election in Buffalo in December, about 200 stores have since voted to unionize, leading the resurgence of labor union election petition filings.
These victories have come despite aggressive opposition from Starbucks.
In early June, Austin Locke, a barista at Starbucks for about six years, three at the Ditmars location in Queens, New York, allegedly a manager put his hand on him over an issue with completing a Covid check-in before working his shift. He reported the incident to human resources, who he claims were dismissive and defensive.
A few weeks later, shortly after his store voted to unionize, he was informed his job was terminated over claims he did not complete the Covid check-in, and an allegation that the incident he reported to human resources over the manager was false.
Locke is in the process of filing an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. He is one of several dozen workers who have done so amid a surge of union organizing at Starbucks stores.
Locke’s dismissal has incited several local groups, workers and community members to protest against his dismissal and rally public support in favor of the union organizing efforts at Starbucks.
“We’re basically out on the street every day to pass out flyers, to let everybody in the community, and the customers that come in that store – the regulars that I used to see every day – know that I was illegally fired,” added Locke.
Starbucks has denied all allegations of retaliation against workers involved in union organizing, and said there was no physical altercation between Locke and the manager.
The first Amazon warehouse won their union election in Staten Island, New York, in April last year, and union organizing campaigns have gone public at other Amazon warehouses in North Carolina, Kentucky and upstate New York.
Heather Goodall, started working at an Amazon warehouse near Albany, New York, in February. “Within a week, I was shocked at what I found. There weren’t enough harnesses for people, they didn’t fit, there were injuries, and it just was overwhelming,” said Goodall.
She started asking co-workers about their thoughts on forming a union, and found there was significant interest, but also fear. But that fear began to dissipate after the Staten Island warehouse won, and other workers saw her success in advocating on behalf of co-workers with their problems at Amazon.
After joining the Amazon Labor Union, the independent union that won the union election in Staten Island, Goodall is pushing to gather enough union authorization signatures to merit a union election with the National Labor Relations Board in the coming weeks. Amazon is opposing workers doing so.
Meanwhile, the first Apple retail store in the US won its union election in June. Workers at two Trader Joe’s stores, two Chipotle locations, and a Lululemon retail store have recently filed for union elections, where, if successful, they would be the first locations at these corporations to unionize.
The first REI retail store successfully unionized in New York City in March, and a second store in Berkeley, California, is holding its union election on July 27.
Jules Gerlitz, an employee at the Berkeley store, said customers are often surprised at the lack of union representation at REI, given the company is a cooperative and brands itself as progressive.
Gerlitz said a common anti-union talking point from REI managers is to claim that a union contract does not guarantee anything, and could potentially decrease pay and benefits for workers – which Gerlitz said was an illogical argument because workers would never agree to that ever being on the negotiating table.
“REI has released information that purports to be from a neutral stance. But it’s very clearly anti-union in what it purports to do, in terms of generating this fear, or uncertainty, about all of these things,” said Gerlitz.
Shortly after the store in New York won its union election, REI corporate released a rollout of new pay and benefits company-wide, although REI has denied it was in response to the union election win.
Workers also claim managers from other stores brought into the Berkeley store have been giving misinformation to employees about unions.
REI has denied claims of union opposition. It said managers from outside stores were brought in to support store functions and cover management time off. REI also claimed HR understaffing issues were resolved and they have no record of unaddressed complaints from the Berkeley store.
“We will fully support the petition process in Berkeley, including the right of every employee to vote for or against union representation,” said an REI spokesperson in an email.