Two interesting stories - one from the Wall Street Journal and the other in the New York Times - about the differences between the unionization efforts taking place at Amazon and Starbucks, two companies that have been targeted by labor organizers in recent months.
The Journal writes:
"As of May 10, more than 250 Starbucks locations have filed election petitions; the majority of those stores have not yet held or completed elections, according to National Labor Relations Board officials. The petitions cover more than 6,800 Starbucks employees who could potentially vote to unionize."
The latest of these, by the way, are in California, where two Starbucks stores in Santa Cruz voted to unionize. A third Santa Cruz store will vote on unionization next month. These are the first Starbucks stores in California to organize.
On the other hand, the Journal writes, "Amazon had only a handful of union elections to date, and most have failed. Some Amazon workers who voted against unionizing said they didn’t think the union could substantially improve their workplace. Amazon pays a starting average of $18 an hour and provides employees with healthcare, 401(k) and other benefits."
The Journal observes that a key difference between the two companies is that the Starbucks unionization efforts are taking place store-by-store, and "in small establishments with few employees, like Starbucks stores, union organizers have the advantage of personal connections, easy access to co-workers and trust … Smaller units, such as Starbucks stores, limit the number of arguments employers can make to challenge the process of forming a union, said Cathy Creighton, director of the Cornell University ILR Buffalo Co-Lab and a past lawyer for the National Labor Relations Board.
"In large establishments with many different job titles, she said, companies can delay union votes by questioning which job classifications should or shouldn’t be included in the proposed bargaining unit.
"In addition, she said, in large establishments, it’s tougher for organizers to gather contact information for thousands of employees, plan and find space for big meetings, and talk one-on-one with co-workers."
The New York Times describes the differences this way:
"The two campaigns share some features — most notably, both are largely overseen by workers rather than professional organizers. And the Amazon Labor Union has made more headway at Amazon than most experts expected, and more than any established union.
"But unionizing workers at Amazon was always likely to be a longer, messier slog given the scale of its facilities and the nature of the workplace. 'Amazon is so much harder a nut to crack,' John Logan, a labor studies professor at San Francisco State University, said by email. The union recently lost a vote at a smaller warehouse on Staten Island.
"To win, a union must get the backing of more than 50 percent of the workers who cast a vote. That means 15 or 20 pro-union workers can ensure victory in a typical Starbucks store — a level of support that can be summoned in hours or days. At Amazon warehouses, a union frequently would have to win hundreds or thousands of votes."
The Times adds:
"Amazon, with about a million U.S. workers, and Starbucks, with just under 250,000, offer similar pay. Amazon has said that its minimum hourly wage is $15 and that the average starting wage in warehouses is above $18. Starbucks has said that as of August its minimum hourly wage will be $15 and that the average will be nearly $17."
But, the story says, "Despite the similarity in pay, organizers say the dynamics of the companies’ work forces can be quite different. At the Staten Island warehouse where Amazon workers voted against unionizing, many employees work four-hour shifts and commute 30 to 60 minutes each way, suggesting they have limited alternatives."
- KC's View:
Starbucks always has been seen as a progressive employer. Amazon, not so much … though it generally has paid people more money to work in its facilities, even if the working conditions haven't always been seen as optimal.
And yet, both are being targeted … and I have to wonder if one thing that they have in common is that their employees expect more of them. For different reasons, sure … but both Starbucks and Amazon have achieved a certain level of ubiquity in our lives, and with that ubiquity comes some level of responsibility.
That's a good thing … it is to be treasured and nurtured. And certainly not abused.