In the last few years, we’ve seen a resurgence of the labor movement, especially among workforces in the service and warehouse industry. Employees of corporations like Starbucks, Amazon, and Trader Joe’s are tired of being understaffed, overworked, and underpaid, and they’ve started embracing unions in record numbers.
These workers are demanding a place at the table where they can better advocate for higher pay, improved working conditions, and have a say in their workplace, and we stand in full support of their efforts. Allowing workers the ability to organize and collectively advocate for themselves is one of the most crucial aspects of ensuring our capitalist economy functions healthily. Unions level the playing field for workers, giving them leverage against their employers so they can advocate for fair treatment and good pay. In the long run, this benefits everyone, including their employers.
Unfortunately, most of the major corporations that employ these workers don’t see it that way. They’re terrified that their profits, and therefore, executive and shareholder compensation, will take a hit and are fighting tooth and nail to stop their workforces from unionizing. In the process, many have crossed beyond the line of morally questionable behavior into outright illegal union-busting.
Just look at perhaps the most high-profile example this year, Starbucks. Late last year, Starbucks employees started the process of unionizing on a store-by-store basis, and after months of organizing, the first Starbucks union was formed in Buffalo, NY, last December. Since then, they’ve had incredible success, with over 300 stores in the US taking action to unionize and 220 successfully forming unions.
But while Starbucks employees may be eager to join a union, Starbucks leadership is adamantly anti-union. Starbucks and its CEO Howard Schultz have a long history of union-busting, reaching all the way back to the 1980s. When Schultz was involved in the formation of Starbucks and its merger with another of his coffee chains, he relentlessly fought against the unions in his company, causing them to disband shortly after. In 2011, Shultz and the then-CEO of Whole Foods directly lobbied against the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have made it easier for employees to band together and vote to unionize.
It shouldn’t be surprising, then, that in 2021 and 2022, Schultz continues his tirade of union-busting. In recent months Starbucks has faced multiple allegations of violating workers’ rights and interfering in unionization efforts. In Memphis, seven baristas, all involved in and most leading the unionization efforts at their stores, were wrongfully fired. Thankfully, a court that condemned the actions of Starbucks ruled that they must be re-hired, but while Starbucks has claimed to respect the court’s decision in this case, the company is filing an appeal.
In addition to intimidating or firing union leaders and threatening to withhold benefits from stores planning to unionize, Starbucks is systematically closing stores that are unionizing. In Portland, Oregon, a location whose workers asked in vain for years to have better working and safety conditions received a notice only five days before their union vote that their store would be shut down.
Just yesterday, Starbucks posted a statement that the first location in Kansas City that announced its plan to unionize would be permanently closing the very same day, not long after the store tied their union vote. Employees at that location were only given minutes or hours notice of the store’s closure.
Lastly, Starbucks has led the charge of corporations attacking the National Labor Relations Board, the agency whose job it is to oversee and protect workers union efforts from corporate interference and intimidation. They have accused the agency of illegally aiding workers in voting to unionize, a claim that is baseless at best and malicious at worst. Amazon did the same thing earlier this year when the employees at their Staten Island location voted to form that company’s first union. This is just another tactic used by anti-worker corporations to squash their workers’ rights to organize at all costs.
Starbucks is far from the only multi-billion dollar corporation participating in union-busting; Amazon, Google, and Trader Joe’s are all other examples of companies retaliating against employees and stores in a desperate attempt to protect their bottom lines. Trader Joe’s has also been caught closing entire stores to prevent workers from exercising their rights to unionize. The exploitation of workers at these corporations’ hands is blatant and egregious.
Congress must take action against these companies. The NLRB’s corrective action against these companies is good, but it may be too little too late, as Starbucks is already filing to suspend union elections as a result of the alleged misconduct they’re claiming. Relying on an understaffed federal agency to rein in some of the world’s largest and richest corporations is a failure waiting to happen. Our elected officials need to take a stand and speak in the only language that these companies understand – massive fines and actual legal consequences for executives who are breaking labor laws.
These illegal intimidation and retaliation tactics being pushed by the CEOs of major corporations must be stopped. We have union-busting laws for a reason – we as a society believe there is value in workers being allowed to collectively bargain with their employers for better working conditions. We need to enforce those laws and hold bullying corporate executives accountable.
Unions and worker empowerment are good not just for the workers themselves but for our economy as a whole. That’s why we unequivocally support the rise in union campaigns and are thrilled to see union activity popping up in companies under the leadership of some of the nation’s wealthiest. Better compensation for the working class stimulates the economy much more effectively than inflated CEO pay or stock buybacks. And when higher wages for working people end up boosting the economy, everyone benefits. If we want a stable, prosperous economy in America, we need organized labor. And if we want organized labor, we need a government that holds anti-labor corporations accountable for breaking the law.