Last fall, so many workers went on strike, or threatened to strike, that October 2021 was known as striketober. Workers had been increasingly vocal about how demoralizing it was to work hard only to struggle to survive. Facing rising inflation, fallout from a devastating pandemic and unsafe working conditions, many workers, including healthcare professionals, took to the streets in protest. Let’s be clear: Work stoppages are rarely a first option; they are often a last-ditch effort to secure safe work environments, living wages, quality health insurance and respect on the job.
The fall was epic. But now we are at a boiling point. Across industries, counties and states, workers are saying enough is enough. Those who belong to unions are increasingly working to ensure improved work environments. Those who do not enjoy a union’s protection are seeking the right to collectively bargaining. All are tired of employers who say one thing in public and another behind closed doors. Public-facing branding campaigns project an open-minded and inclusive employer, while workers’ lived experiences testify to a different reality.
The pleas for respect at work may have begun as a whisper, but now they’ve reached a fevered pitch. In fact, workers at some of the nation’s largest employers are organizing for a voice on the job through union membership. With the support of a fired union organizer, Christian Smalls, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island have come close to winning a voice on the job and forming a workplace union. They have endured formidable resistance and a well-funded union-busting campaign. While a follow-up vote on April 25 fell short, the organizing work of Smalls and others is inspiring. Adam Serwer of The Atlantic characterized it this way: “The story of the campaign is almost cinematic: workers hailing from all around the globe running a multilingual campaign to defeat a corporate behemoth that subjects its wage workers to harrowing conditions.”
Additionally, workers at Starbucks have been organizing to form a workplace union. Like other companies, Starbucks has been accused of running anti-union campaigns. Some Starbucks employees say that the company’s retaliation has included cutting hours, threatening the workforce, harassment and terminations. Two Starbucks employees responded by filing complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, alleging Starbucks violated federal law by retaliating against union supporters. The company has allegedly gone as far as closing some locations where unionizing efforts were underway. Although the company calls its employees “partners,” the employer’s behavior shows anything but a fair partnership.
To be clear, what is happening with Amazon and Starbucks is not divorced from the day-to-day reality of workers across the country. In a way that we have never seen before, more and more workers resigned from companies during the global pandemic. Others have sought to unite and bargain collectively.
Just 11.6 % of Americans belong to a labor union, and just 7% of private sector employees are represented by a union, according to the Economic Policy Institute. However, an increasing share of Americans see the value of uniting together at work via a union. In 2021, when there was a wave of organizing drives and strikes, the largest share of American workers since 1965 expressed a desire to form a union. Gallup Poll reported that 68% of workers wanted to join a union. The fact that union membership remains at 10.3% is less a function of desire and more a result of union busting.
What NYSNA Is Doing
For our part, NYSNA continues to prepare for a record year of bargaining at facilities across the state. To hone our plans, the union has organized a series of bargaining conferences that unite workers across regions and systems. Additionally, NYSNA’s Labor Education Department will host a Contract Action Team/leadership training series to support bargaining across New York. The trainings are open to anyone who wants to refresh their organizing skills, even persons not in bargaining this year. The trainings will offer tools to support healthcare professionals to better engage colleagues, prioritize units needing extra attention, identify leaders and win a strong contract. The series is set up in three sections: overview, general skill building and practice sessions. Each session will be offered multiple times. All trainings will occur via Zoom. To register, return this registration form to your NYSNA representative or sign up online.
In addition to those training, we worked hard to advocate for a state budget that met nurses’ and healthcare professionals’ current and future needs. Positive upgrades to the retention and recognition pay program came after our advocacy. We also continue to push for passage of the New York Health Act. We know that our work is far from finished, and we are excited to be in the fight.