Labor leaders at the Labor Notes conference expressed hope that the prominent unionization activity taking place across various industries is more than just a blip. The 4000 attendees at the June conference were a mix of grassroots activists and labor union supporters, who opined that the pandemic and the anti-police protests in 2020 have resulted in workers that are no longer afraid of the word "union" and who are increasingly assertive towards their employers in obtaining better working conditions, a behavior that has not been seen in decades. Interest in the labor movement had declined since the 1980s and only in the last two years has there a resurgence in union organizing, leading to strikes in the private sector, such as "Striketober" last fall at Kelloggs, Nabisco, and John Deere. According to Gallup, union popularity is at its highest since 1965.
See Teddy Ostrow, "Labor Notes 2022: US workers are pushing unions into the mainstream", DW, June 23, 2022
Microsoft and the Communication Workers of America union have agreed to a neutrality pact, where Microsoft's employees can decide without hurdles whether they want to support a union or not. The CWA had previously been opposed to Microsoft's plan to purchase Activision Blizzard, which had recently started collective bargaining negotiations with workers who had voted to join a union. Microsoft announced earlier this month it would not oppose efforts at union organizing, a decision noteworthy for its supportiveness, coming at a time when union activism has been surging at other companies.
See Ina Fried, "Microsoft reaches neutrality pact with labor union", Axios, June 23, 2022
A minimum wage bill called "Good Jobs for Good Airports Act" might give hope to airport workers who were poorly compensated even before the pandemic and its chaotic aftermath resulted in understaffed working conditions at a time when pent-up travel demand has increased. The bill would ask that the minimum wage for US airport workers, including those who work for contractors, be raised to $15 an hour, be provided with paid time off and at least $4.60 an hour toward health insurance. Currently, many airport workers - who work an assortment of duties ranging from wheelchair assistance to cleaning plane cabins in ten minutes - work below minimum wage, with no paid time off and few benefits, with health insurance often being unaffordable and out of pocket. Airlines and airports have often relied on contractors to source employees, with the contractor who offers the lowest bid on labor often winning the bidding war. The bill was met with approval by many of the U.S's largest transportation unions.
See Michael Sainato, "Exhausted US airport workers see hope in minimum wage bill as summer of travel chaos looms", The Guardian, June 23, 2022
Southwest Airline pilots took to the field - the Dallas Love Field - in the hot sun on Tuesday, to protest what they see as poor management decisions that have led to brutal travel woes this summer. Fliers eager to travel have spiked demand (and prices) for flights, but have faced multiple cancellations and delays this summer from numerous airlines as the industry still struggles with the pandemic's aftermath, which led to decreased flights due to staffing woes that are still being exacerbated by Covid cases. Airline employees, unhappy with the increasingly long hours due to understaffing and sick employees, are asking for more pay and benefits, and are hoping that appealing to the frustrated public will help. Last week the Air Line Pilots Association posted an open letter to Delta customers, emphasizing that Delta pilots felt just as frustrated as their customers over increasingly unreliable schedules, and that a record number of overtime hours were being flown because there weren't enough pilots for the flights being scheduled. American Airlines pilots had also picketed near the New York Stock Exchange earlier this month, commiserating with frustrated travelers.
See David Koenig, "Pilots picket as airline unions leverage summer travel woes", Associated Press, June 21, 2022
The Towson, MD Apple store employees voted to unionize by a margin of 65-33 on Saturday, making it a historic moment as the first Apple store to do so. The vote to join the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers will next need to be certified by the National Labor Relations board, after which the union and Apple would negotiate a contract. In the meantime, Apple may still raise challenges to the process, by perhaps refusing to acknowledge the bargaining unit as appropriate, and that it withdraws recognition of the endeavor and no longer supports those in the bargaining unit. Negotiating a contract has many hurdles that the company can employ, but the pre-eminence of the technology giant's brand name may make things more difficult for Apple. The recent upsurge in pro-union activities across many industries can help union organizers point to this latest triumph at Apple as showing that even retail behemoths are able to be unionized, and Apple's prominence in traditional and social media may encourage workers, especially younger workers, to attempt union organizing.
See Associated Press, "Maryland Apple store workers face hurdles after their vote to unionize", NPR, June 21, 2022
The ALF-CIO revealed at their Philadelphia convention that they hope to grow union membership by a million over the next ten years, but some union leaders thought that, in the wake of prominent union drives at Starbucks, Amazon, and Apple, that the nation's largest union needs to aim higher and take advantage of the increased interest in unions. A goal of roughly 100,000 members per year is a growth rate of less than 1% for the country's unions. Unite Here, the union for hotel workers, for example, managed to increase membership by 8% before the pandemic. Other union leaders felt strongly that now was the time to set bigger goals based on young employees, who historically have made up the largest source of union growth. Newly elected ALF-CIO president Liz Shuler defended the goal as a "measurable" goal, and not merely a dream. She also announced the creation of the Center for Transformational Organizing, which will focus on how to unionize new-economy companies.
See Steven Greenhouse, "AFL-CIO unveils plan to grow but some union leaders underwhelmed", The Guardian, June 16, 2022
A National Labor Relations Board judge has dismissed a complaint brought by a Home Depot employee who alleged the company forbade workers from wearing BLM slogans on their uniforms. Company policy allows employees to add fun extras to their uniforms but forbids slogans or messages that are "political or religious in nature, unrelated to the workplace." The employee who brought the complaint had been suspended for having BLM on their uniform, and then later resigned. NLRB lawyers had argued that "Black Lives Matter" should not be considered to be political in nature, and that it fell under protected concerted activity and that the employee should not have been forced to choose between resigning or engaging in protected activity. The judge who dismissed the suit said that the plaintiff's lawyers failed to prove that this message was protected because it was not done on behalf of a group of employees looking to improve working conditions at Home Depot.
See Ayana Archie, "A judge dismisses an ex-Home Depot employee's case about not wearing BLM on uniforms", NPR, June 16, 2022
Union organizing at Starbucks locations have been far more successful than unionization attempts at Amazon, primarily because the sheer size of Amazon's warehouses, in addition to a high turnover rate, makes it difficult for union leaders to reach employees and coordinate a drive. Only one Amazon warehouse has managed to become unionized, compared to 143 Starbucks locations since December, with another 120 aiming for future union elections. The small size of each Starbucks location makes it easier to coordinate friendly pro-union communications. Meanwhile, a 150% turnover rate at Amazon can make it difficult to achieve the 30% approval rate needed for workers to request a union election. The initial Starbucks union election success in Buffalo, NY, inspired hundreds of other locations to follow suit, making it difficult for the company's anti-union tactics to address all locations at once, while Amazon has had only three union election attempts, allowing the behemoth retailer to commit substantial resources to defeating them.
See Steven Greenhouse, "Why is Starbucks’ union drive speeding ahead while Amazon’s stumbles?", The Guardian, June 14, 2022
Amazon filed 25 objections to the Staten Island union election that took place April 1, alleging amongst other complaints that the Buffalo NLRB office had favored and aided the union election victory. Other complaints allege that the Amazon Labor Union harassed employees who weren't in favor of a union, hinting that they would lose their benefits, and have accused union leaders of offering marijuana as an incentive. Union leaders admit that marijuana was given, but not as a bribe. Due to the Buffalo office's being named in the filing, the case will be heard by the Phoenix NLRB office.
See Andrea Hsu, "Amazon seeks to overturn historic Staten Island union victory at labor hearing", NPR, June 14, 2022
Germany's largest trade union, IG Metall, is supporting Tesla employees/executives who were told by Elon Musk in a leaked email last week that they must return to in-person work immediately, at no less than 40 hours per week, or resign. Musk explained in a tweet that the move was to provide more equality between their executives and their factory workers, who have been required to work in person during the pandemic. The district leader for IG Metall, who represents over 2 million German workers in the manufacturing industry, responded with "whoever does not agree with such one-sided demands and wants to stand against them has the power of unions behind them in Germany, as per law."
See Grace Kay, "Germany's biggest auto union questions Elon Musk's authority to give a return-to-office ultimatum: 'An employer cannot dictate the rules just as he likes'", Business Insider, June 9, 2022