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Are Millennials ‘Saving’ Labor Unions? People Under 35 ‘Have Shown The Greatest Increase’ In Union Membership ‘Out Of Any Age Demographic’

Published Friday, September 6, 2019
by Matt Steecker/The Ithaca Journal
Are Millennials ‘Saving’ Labor Unions?  People Under 35 ‘Have Shown The Greatest Increase’ In Union Membership ‘Out Of Any Age Demographic’

(ITHACA, NEW YORK) - Genevieve Rand, a 22-year-old woman who worked at Nikki Green in Downtown Ithaca when it was still open, said she noticed there were several problems at the restaurant before she and her Co-Workers decided to take action.

"Our wages were ‘very low, below’ the Minimum Wage of New York, ‘and had stagnated for a long time,’" Rand said.

Neither were any Employees promoted after working for a year, Rand said.

"The organization ‘was suffering from people not feeling committed and satisfied with their wages,’" she said.

The minimum cash wage for food service workers in upstate New York is $7.50.

Because of issues with wages and other problems, Rand and her Co-Workers tried to organize into a Union.

Rand's efforts align with a local and national trend.

Younger Workers at several local small businesses have tried to organize recently and the largest increase in Union Membership - nationwide - is by people under the age of 35.

Labor Unions are pretty much one of the things Millennials actually haven't killed so far.

There were close to 400,000 more Union Members under the age of 35 in 2017 than in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Seventy-six-percent of the Union Membership increase in 2017 was Workers younger than 35.

Out of 858,000 net new jobs for Workers under age 35 that year, almost one in four (23%) was a Union Job, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

"We ‘all noticed problems as lower level’ laborers – ‘so we decided to come together and join collectively to figure what the issues were and to send a letter to management to explain what we needed and why,’" Rand said of Nikki Green.

The business owner, Jacky Falkenberg, moved to California before operating the store for a year, and operated it remotely before closing, Rand said. 

So Rand and her Co-Workers reached out to the Tompkins County Workers Center.

"I'd say that (what is occurring with) Workers at these small businesses locally ‘is related to the spirit of organizing that's been happening locally, and happening recently partially because we're really out there encouraging Workers to organize,’" said Pete Meyers, Coordinator for the Tompkins County Workers Center. "And there's a ‘larger spirit out there across the country around such organizing, especially with younger Workers, from what I can see.’"

There were Workers who had administrative responsibilities at the business because the owner did not want to hire more management staff, Rand said.

"I think ‘letting Workers have a voice would have benefited the business, because decisions were being made by someone who didn’t have a clear view of what was happening day to day,’" Rand said. "We ‘could see cracks starting to show in the structure of business there.’  People ‘started to leave and talked of leaving.’"

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