Unhappiness Behind the Counter

NLRB Organizing Workers

June 8, 2022

            New Orleans     Message from the universe to bosses:  retail workers aren’t happy behind the counter!  Another shoe just dropped onto the pile with the others:  eight-five workers at a Trader Joe’s in western Massachusetts just organized an independent union and filed a petition with the NLRB for a certification election.  I’m not saying that a wave is sweeping through retail, but without a doubt there is a significant stirring, and the more the heat rises, the more it is going to be clear that this pot is going to boil over everywhere unless there are significant changes and fast.

Of course, there’s Starbucks, where Starbucks Workers United, part of the giant Service Employees International Union, has now won more than 100 elections with that many and more still pending.  This is erupting everywhere.  I had a visit from a regional NPR reporter earlier this week who had been in town to witness the 11-1 victory in the first election in New Orleans in their busy uptown store on Maple Street.  He had also covered an election in Birmingham.  This is still a happening.

They aren’t alone, as the Trader Joe’s petition shows, but the same thing has happened at the outdoor cooperative REI, and Apple’s high-end stores are also organizing. CWA pulled out of an election recently in Atlanta, but other stores are also organizing.  Besides the CWA, the SEIU has filed on a store in New York City, an independent union filed in Louisville, and the Machinists have an election scheduled soon at a mall in Maryland.

There may not be an election filing, but there are few workers behind the counter that are unhappier than many of those working in the dollar stores:  Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree.  I spent some time on Facebook sites that the workers had created to discuss their issues, and it was a wild ride.  Managers are as miserable as the regular cashiers.  There’s no separate store maintenance many claim and nonexistent to inadequate security, especially considering the many of the stores’ locations in lower income and isolated areas.  Pictures of rats, dead in the aisles, were posted. Wage slips that indicated how little Dollar General and its ilk paid were pictured, also making it clear that being a manager meant making not much more than a cashier, even as responsibility soared.  Given the pandemic and worker shortages in the dollar stores that mimicked many of the other retail operations, a huge number of complaints centered on inadequate staffing.  One manager of a Louisiana store was tearing his hair out about the failure of the air conditioning system. The workers’ slogan has become the ironic, “putinaticket”, skewering the company process that triggers maintenance and other store-based problems.

Starbucks has unilaterally announced a coming two-buck an hour wage increase.  Others are girding themselves as well, but many, like the dollar store owners, seem to be hoping that the isolation of workers and their stores will save them from being forced to make changes.

Workers are so unhappy behind the counter, that I wouldn’t bet that avoidance and pretending this will all go away is a good strategy.