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April 2022, Volume 28, Number 2

UFW; Unions

The United Farm Workers had 33 contracts in August 2021 and reported fewer than 7,000 members to DOL. The UFW collects three percent of worker wages in dues, receives state subsidies for its RFK health plan, and has a JDLC pension plan with too few assets to pay promised benefits.

The UFW helps farm workers by winning new protections and benefits for them in the state legislature, citing overtime pay and more protections from covid and pesticides. Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill in 2021 that would have permitted mail ballots collected over a year rather than secret-ballot in-person elections to determine whether farm workers wanted to be represented by a union.

The alternative election proposal was re-introduced in March 2022 as AB 2183. It would give unions up to a year to collect signed cards from a majority of employees, after which they could ask the ALRB to certify the union as the bargaining representative of a farm’s workers when employment is at least 50 percent of peak employment for the current calendar year. AB 2183 would give the ALRB the power to assess money penalties of $10,000 a day on employers who fail to provide employee lists within 48 hours.

If an employer commits an unfair labor practice or engages in unfair labor practices while the union is trying to collect signed cards, the ALRB may certify the union as the bargaining representative as the remedy for the ULP. Similarly, any employer disciplinary actions against employees during the year-long ballot campaign are presumed to be retaliatory for the union’s efforts to secure signature.

Teresa Romero, who became UFW president in December 2018, expressed disappointment that Newsom refused to meet UFW leaders on March 31, 2022, Cesar Chavez Day, prompting UFW rallies in support of AB 2183 around the state. There was one request for a union election in 2021, on a cannabis farm.

Unions. There were 16 major US work stoppages, each involving 1,000 or more workers, that began in 2021. They involved almost 81,000 workers, most in health and education services. The number of major work stoppages peaked at 470 in 1952 and reached a low of five in 2009.

Starbucks has 230,000 employees in 9,000 company-owned US stores. Two stores in Buffalo became the first corporate-owned stores to vote for union representation in December 2021, followed by one in Mesa, Arizona in February 2022 and another in Seattle in March 2022. Workers at another 100 Starbucks have filed for union elections in an effort led by Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union.

Starbucks said that all US employees or partners of its corporate-owned stores will earn at least $17 an hour by mid-2022. Starbucks wants union votes to be held at all corporate-owned stores in one area rather than store-by-store. Some of the employees of the 6,500 Starbucks franchised stores are represented by unions.

The 6,100 employees of the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama re-voted by mail in February-March 2022 on whether they want to be represented by a union. Workers voted 1,798-738 against the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union in February-March 2021, and appeared to be rejecting unionization again. However, the 8,300 employees of Amazon JFK8’s warehouse on Staten Island became the first Amazon warehouse workers to be represented by a union when they voted 2,654 to 2,131 in March 2022 for the Amazon Labor Union.

Amazon opposes unions at its warehouses, which often employ over 5,000 workers. Amazon emphasizes that its warehouse workers earn more than similar workers elsewhere and have benefits such as health insurance. In captive audience meetings before union votes, Amazon supervisors emphasize that some of these benefits could disappear in a union contract. The 1.3 million member Teamsters union has promised to organize workers at Amazon warehouses.

Some union activists hope that tight labor markets motivated by government assistance and fears of covid will prompt more workers to vote for union representation. They want government action to break up the large firms that can muster resources to oppose unions and larger penalties for employers who violate worker rights. However, without enactment of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (PRO), many activists are pessimistic that the 2020s will witness a resurgence of private-sector unions.

California extended collective bargaining rights to public employees in 1975, and voters in 1978 approved Prop 13 to limit property taxes to one percent of the value of homes and businesses. As a result, the state government provided most of local education funding. Public sector unions found it advantageous to have supporters in the Legislature, and California has one of the country’s most pro-union state legislatures.

The Association of American University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers in March 2022 announced a merger to create a 316,000-member union representing employees in higher education. Declining enrollment is prompting many institutions to reduce costs by hiring more instructors and fewer tenured faculty. Bills in several states, including Iowa and South Carolina, would abolish tenure at state universities.

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