Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont, left, speaks next to Christian Smalls, founder of the Amazon Labor Union (ALU), during an ALU rally in the Staten Island borough of New York, U.S., on Sunday, April 24, 2022.
Victor J. Blue | Bloomberg | Getty Images
After years of declining influence, unions are having a resurgence. Employees from companies across the country are increasingly organizing as a means of asking for more benefits, pay and safety from their employers.
Between October 2021 and March of this year, union representation petitions filed at the NLRB increased 57% from the same period a year ago, according to recent data from the U.S. National Labor Relations Board. Unfair labor practice charges increased 14% during the same period.
More than 250 Starbucks locations filed petitions, and after notching a first win late last year, 54 Starbucks company-owned stores have formally organized. Workers at an Amazon warehouse in New York City recently voted to form the first union at the second-largest U.S. private employer and join the Amazon Labor Union. Google Fiber contractors in Kansas City successfully voted to unionize their small office in March becoming, the first workers with bargaining rights under the one year-old Alphabet Workers Union.
These efforts are resonating with the broader public. A Gallup poll conducted last September showed 68% percent of Americans approve of labor unions — the highest rate since 71% in 1965.
So why are unions becoming popular again?
Experts say the biggest factor was the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic was the wakeup call or the catalyst that has prompted two perspectives: ‘is there another way to work and live?’ and the relationship between employers with workers,” said former NLRB chairman and current Georgetown Law professor Mark Pearce. “The vulnerable workers — they were not only scared, they were pissed.”
“Covid was everything,” agreed Jason Greer, a labor consultant and former field examiner agent for the NLRB. “A lot of people said ‘I’m seeing my family members die and my friends die and we were suddenly faced with our own mortality but a lot of organizations still expected you to work just as hard or harder.'”
As governments and employers imposed new restrictions to slow the spread of the pandemic, and demand spiked for services that let people do more from home, like e-commerce and grocery delivery, employees were faced with new challenges. Retail workers had to enforce mask-wearing and check vaccination status. Delivery and warehouse employees worried that they weren’t equipped properly with the right safety gear.
“We saw a tidal wave of activism during the first months of the pandemic,” said Jess Kutch, co-founder and co-executive director of Coworker.org, which assists workers in organizing efforts. The group saw more use of its website in a three-month period than all of its previous years combined. “That was a clear indication that far more people…
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