From TV writers to healthcare workers, baristas to hotel workers, and pilots to fast food workers one thing is certain — it’s a hot labor summer and corporate greed has got to go. There are so many workers, across dozens of industries, holding labor actions and strikes for better working conditions. Here’s the 411 on the current strikes, how unions and strikes work, and why they matter to us all.
What’s Happening This Summer?
Throughout this year, we’ve seen workers across dozens of varied industries going on strike to protest unfair labor practices and demand better treatment and coverage. What’s more, this movement isn’t just historic in its energy — it’s also taken off during the hottest summer on record. Since June 21, close to 70 different labor actions and strikes have occurred across 113 locations in the US.
So, what are the workers from all these different sectors – retail, healthcare, entertainment, and more – hoping to gain? Though the sectors may differ, the call remains the same: Recognize the inherent dignity of their labor. This looks like better wages, protections from harassment or injury, compensation for additional labor, retirement benefits, protections from discrimination, and job security. You know, the types of things that every worker deserves to have.
Putting a Spotlight on Corporate Greed
For far too long, executives have been lining their pockets and exploiting the people that make their profits possible. We’re seeing in real time the contradictions that the everyday person faces in the workplace. As one example, even with advancements of equipment and tech, people are working longer hours on average. As another, even with drastic increases in the cost of living (like housing, food, and healthcare) the majority of workers have not seen similar increases in their pay or benefits. Get this: the federal minimum wage has remained stagnant at $7.25 for the past fourteen years.
At the same time, multi-millionaire and billionaire CEO numbers in the world continue to swell, while workers are left far behind struggling to make ends meet. In 2021, the top CEO’s gained an average pay raise of 18% (deliberately factored into stocks and cash bonuses to avoid getting charged higher taxes), while in the same year the average worker gained a 2.4% raise after inflation. Despite their pathetic protests otherwise, CEO’s can afford to pay their workers a liveable wage – from McDonald’s to Disney to Starbucks to Amazon to UPS and more.
“Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Corporate Greed Has Got to Go”
Starting at a liveable wage would be the bare minimum to undoing the lasting harm that workers have been subjected to. Because of rampant corporate greed, in the U.S. alone:
- 11.6% of people are living in poverty (including 11 million children)
- 44% of adults are struggling to pay for healthcare
- 25% of adults are food insecure, largely affecting Latinx and Black adults
- 33% of mid-class adults in the US can’t afford a $400 emergency
- 40% of renters in the US spend more than ⅓ of their income on housing costs
It’s all too clear that the impacts of wealth inequality and corporate greed aren’t just plain wrong, they’re unsustainable. And it’s easy to understand how, after a certain point, everyday workers become jaded after being taken advantage of. When workers decide to take action and fight back against employer exploitation, one avenue of building power is through unionization, they’re empowered to make collective demands.
“Our demands are reasonable. We are fighting for basic rights, like the right to work in a safe environment, yet Starbucks has still refused to come to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith,” said Michelle Eisen, a national SBWorkers United leader, Summer 2023.
The Basics of a Union
Unions are democratic and member-driven organizations where employees can organize to secure better working conditions and protections. Unions give workers bargaining power to have a contract. They are a significant way workers can engage in a democratic process to demand a say in their working conditions and their benefits. Also, unions are legally-protected pursuits, which empowers workers to raise concerns without the threat of termination and retribution.
When contracts are being negotiated, workers are often able to bargain with their employers. They consider changes to wages, benefits, protections and more. Members of the union then get to vote to approve the contract and put new, hard-earned policy into motion.
Many of the basic working conditions in place today, like the 40-hour full time cap and 5-day work week, we’re only made possible through workers making demands and taking collective action by way of a union.
Sometimes, the wealthy executives and companies decide to refuse to negotiate or agree to the terms of the contract. When vital demands are not being met – the union can then escalate into a strike action.
Strikes: How they Happen and What they Mean
When workers strike it means that they are holding back their most valuable asset to a company: their labor. Strikes are a last resort tactic and the highest escalation strategy that workers can employ in order for their demands to be met. Strikes show the company, its executives and shareholders, and the public the necessity of the work that the employees do, and usually happen around the contract negotiations when workers are meeting with organization leadership to formalize the changes needed.
When workers agree that they are not getting the basic support and protections that they need in order to do their jobs well, they come together, vote to authorize a strike and refrain from working their shifts. To visibilize their demands, strikers can come together in a picket line, in a form of protest usually at the entrance of their workplace.
From there, they can inform other employees of the organization about their demands and apply public pressure through media coverage. Picket lines can also wield influence by urging potential patrons to not support the business during the strike, encouraging them to “not cross the picket line.” The bottom line: Strikes demand that employers see their employees as people, and not merely tools for production.
What does it mean to be Pro-worker?
Often we are told as Latinxs that in order to get ahead we need to just work hard and not ask questions. We believe the opposite – we need to hold our heads high and speak out through organizing and advocacy. Being pro-worker is part of our Mijente values and here’s a few ways you can support workers:
- Donate to strike funds
- Listen to workers calls to boycott services or products
- Become a union member / Let your workers form a union
- Vote pro-labor candidates into office
- Support the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act
Check out a few of the current strikes and labor actions of 2023’s #HotLaborSummer:
Starbucks Union – SBWorkers United
- Demands: Pay, End to anti-union retaliation
- Employer: Starbucks
Writers Guild of America (WGA) & Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA)
- Demands: Pay (updated streaming residuals model), Job security, Compensation for extra work during virtual auditions; Protection from having their likeness, voice, or performances used without their consent
- Employer: The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP)
Hotel workers in Southern California through Unite Here Local 11
- Demands: Pay, Healthcare, Racial justice, Staffing, Retirement benefits, on-site protections from harassment, Create a fund to assist workers in obtaining affordable housing
- Organization: Hotel Association of Los Angeles
Fast Food Workers through Fight for 15 – SEIU
- Pay, Health and safety, Paid sick leave; End to harassment in the workplace
- (WH): Pay, Health and safety, Staffing, End to mandatory “meal deduction” policy, Scheduling
- Employers: McDonald’s, Domino’s, Waffle House
Healthcare workers nationally (nurses, technicians and other staff)
- General Demands: better working conditions, sick leave, pay and benefits, more staffing
- Employers/Organizations: Kaiser Permanente, Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Tenet Healthcare, Ascension Healthcare, NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital
Trader Joe’s United
- Demands: End anti-union retaliation, Reinstate terminated workers
- Employer: Trader Joe’s
Half Price Books Union Workers – UFCW
- Demands: Pay, Health and safety, First contract
- Employer: Half Price Books
Southwest Airlines Pilots Association & Association of Professional Flight Attendants (APFA)
- SW: Pay, Work rules, Quality-of-life improvements
- AA: Pay, Healthcare, Staffing
- Employers: Southwest Airlines & American Airlines
In the meantime, we’ll continue supporting and chanting: “Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Corporate Greed Has Got to Go! Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Corporate Greed Has Got to Go!”