Unions on the Offense and Defense

ACORN Amazon Unions Workers

New Orleans  What’s up with unions in 2023?  Last year, we wondered if workers unionizing was a moment or a movement.  This year where do we stand?  Are unions on the offense or defense?  Or, both?

The victory of the Amazon Labor Union in Staten Island, New York, and hundreds of Starbucks cafes winning elections across the country seemed in 2022 to be lighting the spark of something big.  Now, the going has gotten tougher.  Workers United / SEIU, is now filing few petitions and stuck in the trenches at their existing locations as they demonstrate, strike, and do everything they can to win a first contract.  The ALU has now lost two elections at other Amazon locations in New York State, slowing their progress.  Other union announced efforts at the company like that from the Teamsters seem embryonic, while the union focuses on UPS bargaining where it has much of its existing membership.

The companies have pushed back to impede organizing, as expected.  Turnover at Amazon warehouses is often 100% or more, making it hard to stabilize a drive.  The company has also raised wages to $19 per hour.  Starbucks has done the same by improving working conditions, shutting down some stores, claiming security, but they were likely vulnerable to unionization, and of course they’ve raised wages as well.  Both companies have been unbending in their announced opposition to unionization.

Fear of recession coupled with rising inflation have forced unions across the world to move from offense to defense.  The CGT is leading the fight in France with a vast coalition against the president’s proposal to raise the age to access retirement benefits from 62 to 64.  Unions in the United Kingdom are leading a strike wave in one sector after another from postal workers to healthcare to railroads.  The Enough is Enough coalition, where ACORN was a founding partner, has organized many rallies and protests.  Layoffs in tech and other US industries and general concerns often have people gripping even bad jobs and working conditions more tightly.

None of which is to say that unions have gone quiet.  Workers United recently announced an organizing drive in Buffalo at a Tesla plant.  For a change, Elon Musk was silent.  Game companies have been successfully organized.  A big strike was won at a publishing company.  A quick scan around the country can find good news for unions, but at the same time when the union density numbers were released for 2022, unions once again slipped behind, especially compared to job growth.  The verdict at this point seems clear:  it was not a movement.  Even more disconcerting might be the emerging reality that even the moment has passed for now.