World

Why Union Drives Are Succeeding


After decades of declining union membership, organized labor may be on the verge of a resurgence in the U.S. Employees seeking better working conditions and better pay have recently organized the job. unions at Starbucks, Amazon, Apple and elsewhere. Applications for this year’s union election are underway to reach their highest level in a decade. I asked Noam Scheiber, worker and labor affairs officer for The Times, what is behind the latest boom in union activity.

Ian: You recently Jaz Brisack’s profile, a Rhodes scholar and bartender who helped organize a union at a Starbucks in Buffalo, a first at a company-owned store in decades. Why does she want to work there?

Noam: Jaz comes out of a tradition. We saw it during the recession; politically radical people take jobs with the express intention of organizing workers. The term for this is “salt”, which is like a spice. The practice has had some limited success in recent decades, but we are seeing its broader resurgence, and Jaz is part of that. Some salt got jobs at Amazon and helped hold a base on Staten . Island. Scholars like Barry Eidlin and Mie Inouye wrote a lot about this.

Jaz is very public about his beliefs. She wore a Karl Marx sweatshirt at Oxford University and once pressed the chancellor of the University of Mississippi – during a reception in Jaz’s honor – to remove a Confederate monument from campus.

She is idealistic and ambitious, but being a social creature doesn’t always come naturally to her. She told me that when she first entered college, she was “extremely socially awkward,” in part because she was homeschooled. However, she’ll do things on her own that require interacting with strangers to advance her career, such as handing out flyers for a union campaign at a nearby Nissan factory.

Employees at nearly 200 other Starbucks have organized since Jaz .’s store union in december. Do they follow her?

After their union won, Jaz and other organizers received requests from Starbucks workers around the country. They will make Zoom calls and tell them how to get started. I was with Buffalo organizers on the day the union won at a Starbucks in Mesa, Ariz., the first store outside Buffalo of the campaign. One worker at Jaz’s store, Michelle Eisen, had close contact with Mesa workers. I went to dinner with her and some of the other Buffalo organizers that night, and they were very giddy. They take pride in what they have set in motion.

Therefore These things begin. Whenever I mention a union campaign these days, I ask, “Have you noticed what’s going on at Starbucks? At Amazon? ” Always the answer is not just yes, but, “We are inspired by it, we are driven by it, it shows us that it can be done.” That was my case during the interview The name of the chain of stores Trader Joe’s and Apple workers. And, historically, unions have tended to be irregular.

College graduates seem to be driving this boom.

An important part of the story is radicalize university-educated workers. You’ve had a substantial recovery from the Great Recession, then the pandemic. Going to college doesn’t necessarily mean getting into school. But whether it’s Starbucks, Amazon or REIworkers with university degrees were heavily involved.

According to one group, college-educated Americans are becoming more liberal than working-class Americans. Is that a barrier to organizing unskilled workers?

College-educated workers are often quite fidgety, but they are pretty good at bringing together a diverse group. I spoke with Brima Sylla, a Liberian immigrant who helped organize her colleagues at the Staten Island Amazon facility. He has a PhD. in public policy and speak several languages. He has helped register hundreds of people, many of them African or Asian immigrants. Another organizer is Pasquale Cioffi. He used to be a seafarer and comes from a more traditional working-class background. He’s very good at talking to non-schoolers and Trump supporters. Having an alliance that binds Brima and Pat together helped the alliance win.

Have you compared the organization today to the 1930s. What similarities do you see?

The Great Recession was clearly a painful moment. The financial system was broken. The economy is collapsing. The unemployment rate is 25%. But by 1936, things were fundamentally better, though still not great. The same is true during a pandemic. A lot of people lost their jobs in 2020, but by 2021, the labor market is tight, and workers feel empowered. The one-of-a-kind punch – a traumatic event and then things improve – is a recipe for organizing success.

Your profile of Jaz reads differently from many Times stories. You talk about yourself – like her, you’re a Rhodes scholar and interviewed your old schoolmates, contrasting their business-friendly views of the late 1990s with the skepticism of she. Why did you write it that way?

Once I understood Jaz’s background and role in the Starbucks campaign, my first thought was, “Well, this probably won’t happen in my group of Rhodes Scholars.” My reflex was to compare it with my team and marvel at the difference. It seems more honest, authentic, and engaging just to own it.

More information about Noam: He joined The Times in 2015 after nearly 15 years at The New Republic and lives near Chicago. After a bad experience involving a late-night cup of coffee, a college humor magazine, and an 8 a.m. math class, he avoids caffeine.

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