Union leaders push back against reprisals, but warnings of a recession amid rising inflation are overshadowing their cause.
During the beginning stages of the year, a significant advantage was held by Starbucks and Amazon workers as they wielded the upper hand at several retail conglomerates. In spite of union-busting tactics reported by both company employees, Amazon staff at its Long Island facility won collective bargaining power, while Starbucks baristas made great strides in their unionization efforts at over 100 stores.
However, these union wins occurred during a wave of mass resignations. Labor analysts reported workers throughout the U.S. quit their jobs in record numbers. Consequently, corporations struggled to retain workers and had little to no choice but to accommodate employee demands. The movement was so strong that Texas A&M professor and psychologist, Anthony Klotz, coined the phrase, “The Great Resignation.”
But now the tide has turned and fear of an economic downturn grips workers. Due to the growing financial pressures workers will feel, it positions the employee at a disadvantage. “Large companies like Amazon and Starbucks will continue to take retaliatory actions as long as they are allowed to get away with it. The burden will fall on the unions to keep companies in check,” Savage Walker, NYU Langone Health Manager told Ark Republic.
By definition, a recession is two consecutive quarters of negative gross domestic product (GDP). But when news outlets and corporate executives increase discussions of a recession, it causes people to freeze in their financial tracks. “Recessions most of the time are a self-fulfilling prophecy,” explains serial entrepreneur and philanthropist Chris Harder.
“The news cycle starts and gets everyone scared and everyone stops spending. That becomes a recession,” says Harder.
Like a moth to a flame, the focus has shifted from the demands of workers to inflation being at a 40-year high with layoffs, and an impending recession. Moreover, the Federal National Mortgage Association, also known as Fannie Mae, predicts that a recession will begin in early 2023 and predict a negative economic growth rate of -0.4 percent.
Unions’ response to rumors of a recession
No matter how much smoke and mirrors are thrown around, union demands are unrelenting.
As such, Amazon union leaders in Kentucky even upped the ante by demanding $30 per hour, 180 hours of paid time off, and union representation at union discipline meetings.
“In order to win a union, we have to act like a union,” says Griffin Ritze, a cargo tug driver at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport . “Unions are built on clear demands like $30/hr, a basis of mutual respect and solidarity with our coworkers, and a willingness to take collective action to win,” Ritze continues.
Moreover, Illinois Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Chuy Garcia sent a letter to Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz accusing the coffee chain of suppressing its workplace benefits against unionizing baristas.
“I feel like if you’re a company [that’s] popular in every single city in every single state and there’s four [Starbucks] on one [street] and a Starbucks opening every other week…you’re obviously bringing in enough profit every year,” Columbia, South Carolina Starbucks Shift Leader, Mae Sproul told Ark Republic.
House Democrats sent a letter to Schultz stating that they are currently monitoring broad strategies of union busting, intimidation, and retaliation against employees.
Indeed, a Bronx, New York Starbucks Barista who wishes to remain anonymous told Ark Republic, “Companies that retaliate against employees [who] join unions should face consequences.”
Previous union-busting tactics included the reduction of hours, surveilling employees, and on some occasions firing. Now, Starbucks has taken its anti-union efforts to a whole new level. In South Carolina, union organizers were charged with assault and kidnapping after they peacefully delivered grievances to the company’s boss. This recent ploy follows the hiring of Amanda Stanfill, a former Pinkerton employee and CIA agent, as a Manager for Global Intelligence for Retail Operations.
A domino effect
Continued uprisings among workers have spilled over into the distribution sector as well. Employees of Sysco, an American distribution company, went on strike due to their unmet demands regarding their pension and health insurance among other benefits. For this reason, Starbucks has been experiencing issues with getting deliveries to both franchise and corporate stores.
Sysco workers walked off the job on September 27 in Syracuse, New York, starting a wave of strikes. In addition to Sysco’s plan to slash pension and health benefits, Sysco’s workers stood in protest for increased wages to counteract the current inflation rate. Indeed, reports that the average Sysco Delivery Driver earns a salary of $75,661 in the United States, which is 47 percent above the national average. Also intertwined in protests were 230 workers and members of Teamsters Local 317 who demonstrated to end to excessive overtime.
“I don’t blame them in any way shape or form because I would honestly do the same thing [but] it’s just been very difficult for us to even do our jobs because we don’t have what we need,” Sproul told Ark Republic.
As it stands now, Sysco workers continue to apply pressure on upper management. “The company’s current offer is just another corporate bait and switch. What they say they are giving in wage increases, they are taking away in employee-paid health care costs,” said Tom Erickson, Director of the Teamsters Warehouse Division.
Yet, there is a different narrative regarding the economy’s health. Despite the continuance of strikes and news outlets perpetuating the message that economic calamity is on the way, corporations are doing just fine according to former Labor Secretary Robert Reich.
Indeed, even with all of the recent terminations, Secretary of Treasury, Janet Yellen believes that the U.S. economy has been far from experiencing a recession. In the same vein, some economists estimate economic growth will be slightly positive in 2023 at 0.1 percent.
Whether this is a large-scale attempt by corporations to create a false sense of economic doom in order to fill the pockets of their executives, all the while, avoiding the demands of their workers or a legitimate nationwide monetary concern, employees are showing no signs of letting up on their demands anytime soon.
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