Microsoft France headquarters entrance in Issy les Moulineaux near Paris
Jean-Luc Ichard/istockphoto

Big-Name Companies Where Workers Are Fighting to Unionize

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Microsoft France headquarters entrance in Issy les Moulineaux near Paris
Jean-Luc Ichard/istockphoto

Getting Organized

Only about 10% of U.S. employees were union members in 2021 — a drop of about half from 1983, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But these days, with millions of jobs going unfilled, union organizing is making inroads once more. Organizers might not always win, but there’s more interest from workers looking for better wages, safer working conditions, and increased benefits. Workers at some big companies have made headlines for their unionization efforts, including Microsoft, which just recognized the first union in the company's history.


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Microsoft France headquarters entrance in Issy les Moulineaux near Paris
Jean-Luc Ichard/istockphoto

Microsoft

Microsoft has recognized its first union — and it only took 47 years to come about. Quality assurance employees at ZeniMax, a video game company that Microsoft purchased in 2021, have voted to unionize under the Communication Workers of America, making them the first official union in the giant software company. "We look forward to engaging in good-faith negotiations as we work towards a collective bargaining agreement," a Microsoft spokesperson said. Though employees at Activision Blizzard have also voted to unionize, Microsoft's purchase of the company isn't yet complete.


Related: 25 Biggest Worker Strikes in U.S. History

Trader Joes grocery store entrance with sign
ablokhin/istockphoto

Trader Joe's

If you're a Trader Joe's devotee, it may be a surprise to see TJ's on this list. After all, the grocer has long had a reputation for treating its workers well. Still, employees at a store in Massachusetts were the first to unionize in July, and since then, workers in Minneapolis have also voted to unionize. Now, staff in Louisville, Kentucky, has launched a bid to join Trader Joe's United to become the chain's third unionized store. According to a store employee, workers don't think that top management understands what the frontline workers want or need to carry out their jobs.


RelatedTrader Joe's Fans' Biggest Store Gripes

Apple Store
Nikada/istockphoto

Apple

In June, employees at an Apple Store in Towson, Maryland, became the first in the company to unionize. Now, a store in Oklahoma City is following suit. Out of 95 eligible voters employed at the Apple store in the Penn Square Mall, 56 voted to be represented by The Communications Workers of America, while 32 voted against. Unless either party objects to the Oct. 14 vote, the results will be certified after five days, and the company must begin bargaining with the union. Other unionization efforts include the Apple store at New York's Grand Central Terminal, where employees are partnering with Workers United and have dubbed their effort Fruit Stand Workers United. Apple's starting wage for retail workers is $20 an hour, but employees say it hasn't kept up with the cost of living in cities like New York, especially given Apple's astonishing record revenue of $366 billion last year.

The Home Depot
KenWiedemann/istockphoto

Home Depot

Employees at a Philadelphia-area Home Depot will soon vote to become the chain's first store-wide union. In a filing with the National Labor Relations Board, 274 workers are seeking to form a union called Home Depot Workers United. According to Vincent Quiles, the employee who is leading the unionization effort, employees are unhappy with working conditions, chronic understaffing, and low wages, especially given the record profits Home Depot has seen during the pandemic. In a statement, the company says it does "not believe unionization is the best solution for our associates."

Chipotle
SchulteProductions/istockphoto

Chipotle

A Chipotle restaurant in Lansing, Michigan, has become the first of the Mexican-food chain's 3,000 locations to unionize. Employees are being backed by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a union with more than 1 million members across multiple professions, such as warehouse workers and pilots. Though the efforts of the group, who seek higher wages and improved schedules, was victorious, not all Chipotle locations have found success. In June, A store in Augusta, Maine, filed for unionization and was closed soon after. In response to the successful campaign in Michigan, Chipotle's spokesperson Laurie Schalow said in a statement, "At Chipotle, our employees are our greatest asset, and we are committed to listening to their needs and continuing to improve upon their workplace experience. We continue to believe that working directly together is best for our employees."

Amazon fulfilment centre
georgeclerk/istockphoto

Amazon

A group of workers from Staten Island, New York, became the first from Amazon to successfully unionize. They won 55% of the vote with a largely grassroots approach. But a second Staten Island facility had a different outcome: 62% of the warehouse workers voted against unionizing, leaving some wondering if the first win was a fluke. Regardless, other groups are still fighting. After a contentious campaign, warehouse workers in Alabama lost an initial bid to unionize, but the National Labor Relations Board ordered a revote. Workers at two Chicago warehouses walked out just before Christmas to demand better treatment and higher wages.

Starbucks coffee shop in Melbourne
Nils Versemann/istockphoto

Starbucks

Starbucks employees at a Buffalo, New York, location voted 19-8 to unionize in December, becoming the first company-owned store to take such action. Since then, at least 15 other Starbucks sites have followed suit. That includes the first location in Seattle, the company's hometown, which voted unanimously in March. The coffee giant has since committed to offer higher wages and new benefits — except for unionized workers. Though Starbucks will honor the wage increase announced for all employees this past October, CEO Howard Schultz said, the promise of new pay raises and benefits does not extend to locations that have a union or where workers are organizing.

Tesla Motor vehicles store in Berlin, Germany
princigalli/istockphoto

Tesla

The electric-vehicle maker has opposed unions in its U.S. operations but is facing a union fight in Germany at its first European assembly plant near Berlin. IG Metall, a union that represents German autoworkers, put representatives on a works council to help set factory policies. That doesn’t mean union organization for plant employees, but “Germany has a strong tradition of unionization and IG Metall recently opened an office near the plant,” according to The New York Times. Tesla plans to hire thousands more as work at the plant ramps up, but employees are already complaining about low and unequal wages.

Mountain View, Ca/USA December 29, 2016: Googleplex - Google Headquarters with biked on foreground
SpVVK/istockphoto

Alphabet

Google employees already had a long history of effecting change from within the company, staging walkouts and protests over various company decisions. In January 2021, 230 of them formed the Alphabet Workers Union with the Communications Workers of America in an effort to become the company’s “conscience.” It now claims 800 members — still a fraction of Alphabet’s 150,000 employees.

BuzzFeed's New York Headquarters
Drew Angerer / Staff / Getty Images News / Getty Images North America

BuzzFeed

Two years after voting to unionize, the employees at the digital news brand are still trying to hammer out a contract with management. Employees are seeking an annual raise of 3% to 5% and a base salary of $70,000 from the company, which recently went public. It’s a small group — about 60 of the company’s 1,100 employees. “We are gonna win this, it’s just a matter of when,” reporter Julia Reinstein said on Twitter.

HelloFresh delivery van.
Jarretera/istockphoto

HelloFresh

A unionization vote by workers who pack and ship boxes of food for the meal-kit delivery service failed late last year despite what BuzzFeed News called a high rate of injuries, low wages, and a major COVID-19 outbreak at a packing facility near Oakland, California. The company let workers know they could be “permanently replaced” if they went on strike but denied it “had interfered illegally with the union election process,” according to BuzzFeed.

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Democratic National Committee

Nearly 70% of the staff at the Democratic National Committee voted in January to unionize as part of the Service Employees International Union, Politico reported. Management and a staff committee were expected to begin contract negotiations after the organization recognized the union voluntarily — which seems only natural, since unionization is a core value of the Democratic Party.

politico
politico by Ted Eytan (CC BY-SA)

Politico

Staffers of Politico and E&E News formed a union last fall called the PEN Guild that was quickly recognized by the buyer of the publications. Organizers worked with the Washington-Baltimore News Guild to convince about 80% of the newsrooms’ staff to come aboard, Washingtonian says.

Medium
Medium

Medium

Efforts to organize the staff of online publishing platform Medium fell one vote short of forming a union in March 2021. “This election did not have the outcome we hoped for, but we’re not going anywhere,” organizers said in a statement. They could hold another election at any point, but told The Verge they were pausing their efforts. Twitter co-founder Ev Williams launched the platform in 2012.


Activision Blizzard
Mario Tama / Staff /Getty Images News / Getty Images North America

Activision Blizzard

Several dozen employees at Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software video game studio announced the formation of a union last year, about the time Microsoft said it would buy the maker of the popular Call of Duty series for $70 billion. “This is a big event in an industry that does not have many unions,” Robert Bies, professor of management at Georgetown University, told The Guardian newspaper. “This is the beginning of a trend where people want to be heard in the workplace.”