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October 2021 was known as “Striketober” due to all the militant labor activity taking place around the country. As the month came to an end, Striketober turned into Strikevember, Strikesgiving and other strike-themed portmanteaus. The point is, the labor movement is not a fluke, and this resurgence continued even as 2021 came to a close.
The striking workers at John Deere and Kellogg’s, mentioned in my previous article, have won. At the end of last year, when Kellogg’s threatened to replace striking workers after they rejected inadequate contracts, they were met with harsh condemnation from all across the political spectrum, including President Joe Biden. Shortly before Christmas, Kellogg’s conceded and accepted a contract for their workers that includes a pathway to higher paid jobs at the company and an across-the-board $1.10/hour wage increase. At John Deere, after a months-long strike, the company and workers agreed to an immediate 10 percent wage increase, followed by five percent increases in 2023 and 2025, and an immediate bonus of $8,500 for every John Deere worker. These workers defeated massive corporations by standing together, showing solidarity and understanding that they had the right to demand more.
Starbucks is also experiencing a wave of unionization, despite the best efforts of corporate leadership. Workers have been fed up over low pay, heavy workloads, inconsistent scheduling, inadequate training and poor job safety. This began in early December when a Starbucks in Buffalo, N.Y., voted 19-8 to form a union and another location in Buffalo finalized its union victory on Jan. 10. After the victory in Buffalo, workers at two Boston Starbucks locations filed union petitions. This has been followed by unionization efforts in Cleveland, Ohio; Eugene, Ore.; Knoxville, Tenn.; Tallahassee, Fla.; Hopewell, N.J.; Broomfield, Colo.; Mesa, Ariz.; Richmond and North Chesterfield, Va.; Baltimore; Seattle; and Chicago.
Turning to another corporate behemoth, after Amazon crushed the union drive in Bessemer, Ala., the prospects of a union at Amazon seemed bleak, but the fight is continuing. Although the union drive in Staten Island, N.Y., was not successful, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that Amazon violated labor laws by placing the mailbox which counted the votes for or against the union near the company’s video cameras and surrounding the voting location with anti-union propaganda. NLRB Director Lisa Henderson has ordered a do-over election, which will begin Feb. 4. This union election will be especially important after the manslaughter of 6 Amazon employees in Edwardsville, Ill., who were told to remain at work during a tornado and were killed when the building collapsed on them.
The labor movement is not limited to workers at mega corporations, and has spread to education institutions as well. Student workers at Columbia University went on strike twice in 2021 for higher wages, dental coverage, secure contracts and access to independent arbitration. The strike has since ended with every student worker at Columbia receiving a nine to 11 percent pay increase. Student workers at Harvard University, as well as the University of California system, have also gone on strike over the same issues. And let us not forget about the Fight for $15 an hour and the CA almost-revolt that’s been happening on our campus. College students aren’t the only ones organizing; 327 school bus drivers in Charles County, Md., are also unionizing with the Amalgamated Transit Union.
On Dec. 12, 2021, grocery store workers at Kroger-owned supermarkets QFC and Fred Meyer in Portland, Ore., authorized a strike over low wages, low pensions, inadequate health benefits and lackluster workplace protections. By Dec.18 the company caved, ending talks of a strike. Sanitation workers at Republic Services’ facilities in Lynnwood, Wash., and Corvette Plant workers in Bowling Green, Ky., have also threatened to strike unless conditions improve in their workplace.
Healthcare workers have been unionizing, including EMTs in Compton, Calif., Board of Health workers in Whiteside County, Ill., and nurses and hospital workers across the country. A union doesn’t even come close to what healthcare workers deserve after being on the front lines of a global pandemic for almost two years.
Employees at less traditional union workplaces have been joining this movement. Workers at the California-based video game company Activision Blizzard went on strike over the hiring of temporary contractors instead of full-time workers, sexism in the workplace and forced arbitration. Museum employees in NYC at the Jewish, Brooklyn, Whitney, and Guggenheim Museums have been organizing with UAW Local 2110. The Art Institute of Chicago and the Politics & Prose Bookstore Chain in D.C. have also recently unionized. Cannabis workers including in Eugene, OR, St. Louis, MO, Springfield, IL and Lake of the Hills, IL have been joining the movement, joining hundreds of unionized dispensaries in weed-friendly states.
The point of this article is not to put together a list of every workplace that’s unionizing or striking. That would take far too long. The point is that the labor movement is a continuing process, and we have to keep fighting for it. If you want to show support, respect picket lines, donate what you can to strike funds and demand better in your workplace. Chances are, if you feel that way, someone else does too, and even if your boss is nice and your working conditions are good, you deserve a union. Let’s keep fighting for the world we deserve.