Why Labor Is Rising Up

by Carl Wolfson

The trend is undeniable. Union victories are on the rise. 

In April, Amazon warehouse workers in Staten Island, NY, voted to start a union. More than 100 Starbucks locations in the U.S. are now unionized, with hundreds of more petitions under way. This summer, Trader Joe’s in Minnesota and Massachusetts became union shops. REI Manhattan voted 88 to 14 to unionize.  And every week seems to bring more positive headlines: A 404 to 88 vote by New York Times tech workers to join the News Guild of New York. A 142 to 44 victory for labor at the Art Institute of Chicago

According to the National Labor Relations Board, unions have won more elections in 2022 than they have in 20 years, and the percentage of Americans who approve of unions is at its highest level since 1965, according to a recent Gallup Poll.

All of this comes in the face of fierce opposition from corporations and Republican lawmakers, a continuation of union-busting that took flight in the 1970s and quickly blossomed into a multi-billion-dollar industry. 

Each pro-union vote now adds momentum for organized labor.  Following the Amazon vote in New York, Forbes wrote, “This month’s vote to start a union sent a jolt through employers across the country. They’re nervous that if Amazon, worth $1.5 trillion, couldn’t prevent workers from organizing despite spending $4.3 million on anti-union efforts last year, what chance do they have?” 

Certainly, the current low unemployment and record number of job openings have emboldened workers.  But beyond this, there is growing understanding that unions are, and have always been, the key to a thriving working class.  During the 1950s, when nearly a third of American workers were unionized, wages grew commensurate with the economy. The growing gap between rich and poor, along with the dramatic decline of the middle class, is in direct proportion to the diminishing of unions.  People are getting it! 

Democratic victories in Oregon have kept our state one of the most unionized in the United States. But even in red states, voters continue to signal a desire for higher wages and organized labor.  In 2011, Ohioans soundly reversed Governor Kasich’s collective bargaining repeal, 61percent to 39 percent.  In 2018, Missourians turned out in record numbers to raise the minimum wage to $12.00 per hour by 2023.   

Higher wages get the lion’s share of headlines, but unions also are game changers for better benefits, including health coverage, member access to legal services, safer workplaces, and a strong voice to management. 

IATSE photojournalists are rising up for better working conditions and pay with local television.
 The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Moving Picture Technicians, Artists and Allied Crafts (IATSE) Local 600 and IATSE Local 28, are representing KATU-TV photojournalists, who are asking for a fair contract and a fair wage. KATU’s owner Sinclair Broadcasting reported a net profit of $107 million in the second quarter of 2022, with a record $54 million in political advertising.

This explosion of support for unions, of course, must be fueled by victory after victory on Election Day after Election Day.  Our opponents are fierce and well-funded.  In Oregon, let’s commit to a massive turnout this fall for Tina Kotek for Governor and Christina Stephenson for Labor Commissioner. 

When you think of the vital role of organized labor, think of the words of Frederick Douglass:
“Power concedes nothing without a demand.”

Make sure you demand that America rebuild its middle class.  Vote for workers by voting for Democrats. Visit the MultDems Election Hub for the links and information about the candidates on your November ballot, and the Volunteer page to learn how you can help.

For more on unionization actions nationwide, this Vox article provides an overview.

Carl Wolfson
Carl Wolfson is proud to be an Oregon Democrat. He is also a comedian, radio host, author and activist. During 2007 to 2016, Wolfson was the host of “Carl in the Morning” on AM 620 KPOJ and FM 107.1 KXRY, Portland’s progressive talk stations. Radio was the capstone to Carl’s four decades as a political activist, advocating for social and economic justice, universal healthcare, quality public schools, strong. Find out more at carlwolfson.com.