Fed-up workers are organizing, and winning

Union election petitions up 57 percent in the last six months

Managing Editor

STARBUCKS WORKERS at 10 U.S. locations have voted in recent months to join Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. In St. Louis, workers at four locations have filed petitions for union elections. – Denver Post photo

U.S. workers are standing up, speaking out, demanding more from their employers, and turning to unions as the way to make them listen.

U.S. workers and Labor groups filed 57 percent more petitions to be represented by unions in the last six months than they did in the same period last year, Reuters reports.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) received 1,174 petitions for union elections during the first half of fiscal year 2022 (Oct. 1 through March 31), compared to 748 during the first half of fiscal 2021.

High-profile organizing campaigns at Starbucks Corp, Amazon and other companies have taken off with workers who labored through the pandemic now demanding more from their employers.

Workers at five St. Louis area Starbucks locations have filed for union elections in the past two weeks alone.

“What I think a lot of these folks are looking for is a voice on the job,” said Pat White, president of the St. Louis Labor Council. “People are wanting more of a voice and seeing they’re going to get more of a voice as a group than they can on their own.

“I think the growing popularity of unions that we’re seeing nationwide is because people are seeing unions empowering themselves and they want part of that power. People at these big companies like Amazon and Starbucks are saying ‘We have a lot of people here. If we all get together we can have a say.’ The way to do that is with a union.”

Employees at 10 U.S. Starbucks locations have voted in recent months to join Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union. They include five cafes in Buffalo, N.Y.; two in Mesa, Ariz.; one each in Seattle, Wash., and Knoxville, Tenn; and a Starbucks Reserve Roastery in New York City. At least 170 locations had petitioned for elections as of April 1, with counts scheduled for more than a dozen other cafes in the coming weeks.

In the St. Louis area, workers at five area Starbucks have filed paperwork with the NLRB seeking union elections. They include workers at Lindbergh Blvd. and Clayton Road cafe in Ladue, the Natural Bridge and Rock Road location in Bridgeton, the south St. Louis City cafes at 3700 South Kingshighway Blvd. and 1216 Hampton Ave., and the 1720 Clarkson Road cafe in Chesterfield.

Baristas at the Ladue location complained of managers ignoring safety concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic, promising but then delaying raises, and cutting hours so drastically a number of workers have been forced to seek second jobs or quit.

AMAZON WORKERS in Staten Island voted to unionize on April 1, marking the first successful U.S. organizing effort in the retail giant’s history. – Washington Post photo

Workers at an Amazon warehouse facility on New York City’s Staten Island on April 1 voted in favor of forming a union, making it the online retailer’s first U.S. facility to organize. Their success clearly inspired others. By April 4, workers at 50 more Amazon locations across the country had contacted organizers.

“Two of the most recognizable companies in America are currently the target of a true grassroots movement to form unions in their workplaces,” said David Cook, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655, the largest private sector local union in Missouri. “Any organizer will tell you that these types of campaigns are the most likely to succeed: the kind led by the workers first and foremost, where workers take the wheel and take charge.”

On April 4, workers at Root 66, a medical marijuana dispensary on South Grand in St. Louis voted unanimously to authorize UFCW 655 to begin bargaining with their employer on their behalf in order to reach agreement on a union contract. Local 655 represents some 8,500 members throughout the eastern half of Missouri.

WORKERS AT medical marijuana dispensary Root 66 in St. Louis became the first cannabis industry workers in Missouri to vote to join a union UFCW 655 on April 4. – UFCW Local 655 photo

“Cannabis workers across the country are voting to join a union because they know it’s the best way to secure good wages and benefits on the job,” Cook said. “Workers need economic security and fair treatment in the workplace, and cannabis workers are no different. We are committed to helping cannabis workers across Missouri.”

Elsewhere, UFCW has reached agreements with cannabis lab Sonoma Lab Works and cannabis manufacturer CannaCraft Manufacturing in California. UFCW now has the largest cannabis workers union in the United States with more than 10,000 members.

The surge in union activity also extends to the media and technology industries.

In March, some 600 designers, software engineers, data analysts and other tech employees at the New York Times voted in March to join the NewsGuild of New York, and employees of a Google Fiber subcontractor in Kansas City, Mo. voted to unionize with the Alphabet Workers Union (AWU). Alphabet Inc. is Google’s parent company. AWU has grown to 800 members since launching just over a year ago.

“I think what we’re seeing is people are waking up saying, ‘Hey these employers are making record profits, and they need us –– more than we need them,’” White said.

“People want more for their employers. They see people going into Starbucks paying $8 for a cup of coffee, and some of these people weren’t making much more than $8 an hour. I think people are finally waking up saying, ‘OK, I’m only a barista, but I’m worth more. I deserve more.’

“I think they’re saying we can offer our folks a better way of life, whether it’s benefits or pensions or whatever, and they’re seeing the way to get that is through a union.”


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