Economics/Class Relations

The Darker Truths About the State of Unionizing in the Country — and What Can Be Done to Change Things

Organizing franchises is swell, but the attacks on unionization drives must stop.

Workers rally outside a Staten Island Starbucks location on October 5, 2022 in New York City. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images.

The successful effort to unionize hundreds of Starbucks locations around the country was a feel-good story in 2022. As the new year began, workers at some 335 stores had taken votes and 280 had opted to unionize, an 83.6% win rate that experts say is higher than average among U.S. organizing efforts.

Considering that barely a year ago no company-owned Starbucks had union workers, such an achievement is worth noting. But the shine surrounding these very public victories risks obscuring larger and darker truths about the state of unionizing in the country — and to what lengths employers are going to defeat it.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, union representation in the U.S. last year sank to its lowest level since comparable statistics started being kept in 1983. That year, the percentage of wage and salary workers who were union members was 20.1. By the end of 2022, the figure had shrunk to 10.1.

How are employers consistently driving down efforts by organizers? Well, about 40% of the time, they’re allegedly breaking labor law to do it. In some cases, they hire firms to do the dirty work for them. As well, there are a number of legal means of profoundly discouraging labor organizing in this country, including calling “captive audience” meetings during work hours to warn employees against unionization.


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