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A Labor Perspective From Former New York Times Labor Reporter Steven Greenhouse: ‘A New Generation Is Reviving Unions - The Old Guard Could Help’

Published Wednesday, May 25, 2022
by Steven Greenhouse Via The Los Angeles Times
A Labor Perspective From Former New York Times Labor Reporter Steven Greenhouse: ‘A New Generation Is Reviving Unions - The Old Guard Could Help’

Los Angeles Times Editor’s Note: Former New York Times Labor Reporter Steven Greenhouse is now a Senior Fellow at the Century Foundation.  He the Author of Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor.


This is the most exciting - and promising - moment for the Nation’s Labor Movement in decades thanks to the landmark Union victories at Starbucks and Amazon, as well as the spread of Union Drives to well-known companies like Trader Joe’s and Apple.

To find similar excitement about Unions, one would have to go back to the 1930s and the victorious Flint Sit-Down strike against General Motors, which inspired a tremendous wave of strikes and Union Drives across the U.S.

What has made this moment even more promising for Labor is the huge enthusiasm that many young Workers are showing toward Unions, including Museum Workers, Nurses, Journalists and Graduate Students, among them the 17,000 University Of California Grad Student Researchers who won Union Recognition in December.

Two recent surveys also hold promise for Labor: 74% of Workers 18 to 24 say they would vote to join a Union if they could, and a Gallup Poll found that 77% of Americans 18 to 34 approve of Unions.

Propelled by this youthful excitement, the Starbucks Union drive has gone from Workers at a single Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, voting to Unionize in December to 75 Starbucks Unionized today, with Workers at nearly 200 more petitioning for Unionization votes.

One measure of this youth-driven enthusiasm: John Logan, a Labor Studies Professor at San Francisco State, says Anti-Union Consultants often boast that they defeat Unions 95% of the time in Union votes, but Starbucks Baristas have voted to Unionize 90% of the time - winning 75 of 84 Union Elections.

The Union victory at a gigantic, 8,300-Employee Amazon Warehouse on Staten Island, New York, is among the most important Union wins in nearly a century.

Like that Flint Sit-Down triumph over General Motors, then the Nation’s largest corporation, the victory against Amazon has huge symbolic importance and has inspired Workers nationwide.

Christian Smalls, the 33-year-old fired Amazon Worker who led the Staten Island Campaign, says Workers at 100 other Amazon Facilities have told him that they too want to Unionize.

And now Apple Workers are seeking to Unionize in New York, Atlanta and Maryland, and so are Workers at a Trader Joe’s in Massachusetts.

Workers at an REI store in Manhattan voted 88-to-14 in March to make theirs the first Unionized REI Store, while Workers at two Google Fiber stores in Kansas City also Unionized.

Union Fever has spread to another unexpected group: Undergraduates.

Last month, student Workers at Grinnell College in Iowa voted 327 to 6 to Unionize - their Union includes Dining Hall Workers, Research Assistants and Library Aides - while Student Dining Hall Workers at Dartmouth voted 52-to-0 to Unionize. 

Student workers at Wesleyan, Hamilton and Kenyon have also Unionized.

Young Workers are embracing Unions for myriad of reasons - many are upset about unaffordable rents and mountains of student debt.

Many have been inspired by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent-Vermont) and his enthusiasm for Unions.

Many young Workers are frustrated about how they were treated during the Coronavirus Pandemic - when they were stressed out from understaffing, a shortage of protective gear and work schedules that changed constantly.

They were upset because many customers didn’t wear masks and because their employers often didn’t give them hazard pay for risking their lives day after day at work.

Plus, many have been emboldened by the Fight for $15, Black Lives Matter and MeToo Movements.

In recent months, it suddenly seems that there are really two Labor Movements.

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