Sep 15, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Latinos rise up amid resurgence of unions

Illustration of fists getting longer like an upward trending bar chart.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Latino workers say they are finding their voice in the resurgence of unionization across the U.S.

The big picture: The pandemic and tight labor market are empowering more workers to organize for better conditions across the country and within new companies, including Starbucks and Amazon.

What they’re saying: The pandemic made clear corporations’ lack of commitment to employees, with many “choosing their profits over their workers,” Beto Sanchez, an organizer with Starbucks Workers United, says.

  • Sanchez is one of seven workers in Memphis that Starbucks fired after going on a local TV station to talk about their union campaign. A federal judge last month ordered the company to reinstate them.
  • Sanchez, 25, says organizing is "deeply embedded in Latino culture." His own grandparents joined protests for better working conditions as coffee bean pickers in Nicaragua in the mid-20th century.

State of play: Since the end of last year, workers have voted to unionize for the first time ever at Amazon, Apple and Chipotle.

Latinos are not just a part of unionization efforts but of wider labor movement gains as well.

  • Latinas in California helped drive a successful campaign for a new law that will give fast food employees a larger role in setting wage and workplace standards.
  • Angelica Hernandez, a McDonald's employee who helped lead the effort, told Axios through a translator that she became active in the labor movement after her son told her he wanted to come work with her. "I didn't want to see him suffer and be degraded like I have."
  • "As Latinos, sometimes they see us as if we don't know how to defend ourselves," she added. But it's not just fast food workers that are standing up and fighting. "It's also the carpenters, the farmworkers ... We're all raising our voices as a Latino community."

Flashback: Many consider Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta to be the most notable Latino labor leaders, but organizing has always been part of Latino history.

  • In 1903, Mexican and Japanese farmworkers created the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association and organized a strike to protest wage cuts and an exploitative subcontracting system.
  • Puerto Ricans led several labor unions that went on strike to demand better wages and working conditions for food and hotel workers in the 1930s.
  • Central American activists played key roles organizing the garment industry to unionize and advocating for the Justice for Janitors campaign to secure better wages and benefits.

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