Mid-2023 Worker Wins: More Successful Unionization Campaigns
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The momentum of the new labor movement hasn’t slowed down, and there are mid-2023 worker wins to celebrate. As they have for the past couple of years, workers across the country are coming together to stand up against employer oppression, to exercise their rights to form unions, and to collectively bargain for greater protections and better working conditions.
“It’s been a good year for unions,” says Art Wheaton, director of labor studies at Cornell University’s Industrial and Labor Relations. “You’ve seen a lot of successes and that will help going forward.”
Here’s a look at some of the most recent organizing wins that have made this such a great year for workers.
Farm Workers in New York State Organize with the UFW
Farm workers were deliberately omitted from the National Labor Relations Act when it passed in 1935. To right that wrong, New York passed the Farm Laborers Fair Labor Practices Act in 2019 and became one of three states to give farm workers the protected right to unionize. To ease the process for workers, the Act also requires farms to recognize a union through card check.
Its passage was a big win for the workers in the state and helped pave the path for the recent unionization victories by 500 workers at five farms in New York — Wafler Farms, Cahoon Farms, Porpiglia, A&J Kirby, and Lynn-Ette. “It’s amazing,” says United Farm Workers (UFW) President Teresa Romero. “When the laws change, workers really can win.”
These are particularly significant victories for the UFW because it’s the first time the union has won union drives in the northeast. “For us, it’s proof of concept that when you change the laws, workers can win,” says Antonio De Loera-Brust, director of communications for the UFW. The wins also increased the union’s membership by 8 percent, which just might give the union a jolt of momentum it needs to bring in more workers.
“There was considerable lethargy with the UFW,” says Beardsley Professor of Law, Emeritus, at Stanford Law School and former chairman of the California Agricultural Relations Board William Gould IV. “This is a significant departure.”
Cannabis Workers at RISE Dispensary in Rhode Island Vote to Unionize with the UFCW
The cannabis industry is a high-growth one, and unions are working to get in on the ground floor to build it as a pro-labor industry. “Unlike other rapidly developing U.S. industries such as technology, cannabis may be peculiarly suited for labor organizing,” writes MJ Biz Daily reporter Chris Roberts. That’s because it is a “heavily-regulated, labor-intensive business sector” that is increasingly being run by large cannabis conglomerates that are squeezing labor costs for higher profits, notes Roberts.
In an effort to push back against wage suppression and bring consistency in working conditions to what John Cakmakci, president of United Food & Commercial Workers (UFCW) Union Local 951 in Michigan, describes as “the wild west,” cannabis workers are forming unions.
One of the most recent cannabis workplaces to organize is the Rise Dispensary in Warwick, Rhode Island. In July 2023, workers voted 50 to 6 in favor of organizing with UFCW Local 328 after the dispensary was acquired by Green Thumb Industries, the third-largest cannabis company in the U.S.
“It was made clear to us, through word and deed, that management was struggling to balance our needs with corporate demands,” said the dispensary’s Patient Care Specialist Bruce Botelho after the win. “We chose to organize and take that burden off their hands in an attempt to improve working conditions for everyone at Rise Warwick.”
Graduate Students at Pardee Rand Graduate School Vote to Join the UAW
The majority of graduate students struggle to make ends meet. “Working as an adjunct or research assistant is a high-stress, poorly-paid gig that comes with a heavy workload and precarious employment status,” writes journalist Kim Kelly, who wrote the book “Fight Like Hell: The Untold History of American Labor.”
In an effort to improve their working conditions and raise labor standards in the industry, graduate students across the country have increasingly turned to unions. “This recent growth in student unionization has far exceeded that among faculty—whether contingent or tenure-track,” note Ruth Milkman and Joseph Van Der Naald in the CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies 2023 state of unions report.
The growing list of unionized graduate students now includes those at the Pardee Rand Graduate School (PRGS) who voted 51 to 26 to organize with the United Auto Workers (UAW). “Building a union with my coworkers has been an empowering way to put our policy studies into action,” says Alejandra Lopez, a graduate student researcher at PRGS.
Culture Workers at the California Academy of Sciences Museum Organize with the SEIU
Culture industry workers aren’t backing down either. After a string of successful unionization efforts at high-profile museums in 2021 and 2022, more museum workers are following suit in 2023. On July 25, 2023, 77 percent of eligible voters at the California Academy of Sciences museum voted to join Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021.
“This is a victory for all of us who work at the Academy,” says organizing committee member Ian Hart. “We’ve been working hard for this for months, and it’s an amazing feeling to see it come to fruition.”
Through the collective bargaining process, the workers want to address issues such as compensation, benefits, and a more equitable system for pay raises. Most importantly, though, they want a say in how layoffs are handled in light of how poorly it was done during the pandemic.
“The layoff process is intertwined with why we want to unionize,” says Victoria Langlands, a member of the organizing committee. “It lacked transparency and communication at a time when everything was confusing.”
Starbucks Baristas are Still Winning Union Elections
Workers at Starbucks locations across the country continue to successfully organize. In the summer months of 2023, baristas won union elections at 41 locations, helping to bring the number of unionized locations to more than 350.
These recent and ongoing victories are significant because they demonstrate a commitment to unionizing despite heavy anti-union rhetoric, illegal firing of unionizing employees, store closures, and the inability to date of any unionized locations to secure a first contract. Workers are simply tired of being taken advantage of by the company.
When workers at the Maryland Heights, Missouri, Starbucks location voted to form a union in August, they were motivated by a reduction in hours that left them without benefits even though they requested more hours. “The benefits would be nice, but it was especially heartbreaking to see my co-workers that rely on it lose their health care due to lackluster scheduling,” says barista Tori Davies of the cut in hours.
That’s just one in a long list of practices that are energizing baristas to stand together and demand better. Each election victory and unfair labor practice suit win, like the recent win in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, gives the workers that much more leverage to bring the company to the table to bargain and hopefully start securing some contracts.
“Workers are fighting back against Starbucks’ illegal union-busting campaign and are WINNING,” tweeted Starbucks Workers United after the ruling in Pennsylvania.
As workers and unions press for more workplaces to form unions, a communications platform like UnionTrack® ENGAGE® gives organizers the ability to keep members informed and engaged in union campaigns which translates to more wins.
Images used under license from Shutterstock.com.