Apr 18, 2022 - Economy

Why there's been a surge in unionizing efforts

Illustration of a fist made of mercury breaking out of a thermometer.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There's been an upsurge in unionizing efforts across the country.

Why it matters: The great worker awakening that began during the pandemic is reversing a decades-long decline in labor union participation.

Driving the news: Apple retail workers in one New York City store have taken steps toward forming a union.

  • If successful, this would be the first Apple retail store to do so.
  • Among their asks: increased tuition reimbursement, more vacation time, additional retirement plan options, health and safety research, and a minimum pay of $30 per hour — $10 more than the company's minimum hourly rate now.
  • "We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple," the company said in a statement. "We are pleased to offer very strong compensation and benefits for full time and part time employees, including health care, tuition reimbursement, new parental leave, paid family leave, annual stock grants and many other benefits."

Zoom out: From Big Tech to retail big and small, various industries are seeing their workers organize in unprecedented ways.

  • Before the pandemic, worker activism, large successful teacher union strikes and Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign laid some of the groundwork for the recent wave in organizing, Ken Jacobs, UC Berkeley Labor Center chair, tells Axios.
  • During the pandemic, “workers saw themselves deemed as essential but treated as disposable ... [which] created a lot of anger [and] willingness to take action.”

State of play: Combined with a tight labor market, workers have less fear of losing jobs now, and even if they do, they know they can get a job elsewhere. 

  • “Success begets success," Jacobs adds about the unionization effort. One victory can increase hope and change people's views of what's possible. 

The big picture: The National Labor Relations Board is seeing the highest level of union organizing in 10 years, CNN reports.

  • More than 1,100 petitions seeking union representation were filed between October 2021 through March.

What to watch: The uphill battle to get the first contract.

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