Apple Store in Adelaide
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Big-Name Companies Where Workers Are Fighting to Unionize

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Trader Joe's customer trolley shopping basket carrying carts by store entrance doors outside women, winter flower pots, gardening plants, pineapple in Virginia
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Getting Organized

Only about 10% of U.S. employees were union members in 2021 — a drop of about 50% from 1983, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But these days, with COVID-19 thrusting essential workers into the spotlight and 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. Here are some big companies in the news for unionization efforts, including a grocery chain that has typically been known for its happy, engaged workforce.


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Trader Joes grocery store entrance with sign
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Trader Joe's

If you're a Trader Joe's devotee, it may be a surprise to see TJ's here — after all, the grocer has long had a reputation for treating its workers well. Still, employees at a Massachusetts Trader Joe's recently sent a letter to the store's CEO expressing a desire to unionize. In their letter to CEO Dan Bane, the workers referred to a letter Bane sent to employees in March 2020 in which he called unionization efforts a "distraction," explaining his belief that unions "drive discontent" within companies. The workers wrote, “Since that letter arrived in our mailboxes, Trader Joe’s has continued to slash our benefits as our wages stagnate and our safety concerns go unaddressed." Trader Joe's has yet to release a statement on the matter.


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Amazon fulfilment centre
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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.


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Starbucks coffee shop in Melbourne
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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. Now, the coffee giant has committed to offer higher wages and new benefits — except for unionized workers. While 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.


Related: Things You Didn’t Know About Starbucks

Apple Store
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Apple

Employees at an Apple Store in Towson, Maryland, are joining workers at two other locations in pushing for unionization. They're calling their group CORE, the Coalition of Organized Retail Employees, a cheeky name for a serious effort. They have already sent a letter informing Apple CEO Tim Cook of their intentions. The other unionization efforts include the store at New York's Grand Central Terminal, where employees are partnering with Workers United and have dubbed their effort Fruit Stand Workers United. Although Apple's starting wage for retail workers is $20 per hour, employees say it still 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.


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

Tesla Motor vehicles store in Berlin, Germany
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Tesla

The electric vehicle maker has opposed unions in its U.S. operations but could face a union fight in Germany as it prepares to open its first European assembly plant near Berlin. IG Metall, a union that represents German autoworkers, is preparing to 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.


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


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BuzzFeed's New York Headquarters
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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.
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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
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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
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Activision Blizzard

Several dozen employees at Activision Blizzard’s Raven Software video game studio announced the formation of a union in January, about the time Microsoft announced 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. “This is the beginning of a trend where people want to be heard in the workplace.”