Unions surging nationwide despite Amazon worker setback

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(NewsNation) — The failed drive to unionize a second Amazon warehouse in New York City on Monday is a setback for workers, but it comes amid a surge in labor organizing nationwide.

There is a new generation of workers, younger and more racially diverse than in the heyday of organized labor, in industries with no union traditions, experts tell NewsNation.

Union membership in the private sector has steadily declined over the last few decades — to just 10%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But new data released by the National Labor Relations Board show a recent spike in union interest. Union election petitions were up 57% in the first half of the 2022 fiscal year.

“Workers are pushing back, they’re saying … we took concessions, and we … gave everything, even, we risked our lives, we risked our families, and we’ve had enough,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner of Cornell School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

A separate election held last month gave a nascent group of organizers known as the Amazon Labor Union a surprise victory when workers at a different Staten Island facility voted in favor of unionizing. That was a first for Amazon in the U.S.

Politicians on the left, including Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), supported the effort to unionize Amazon workers.

“You’re gonna do business out here in New York, you gotta treat our people right,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Last fall, 10,000 United Auto Workers employees at John Deere went on strike for five weeks — winning immediate 10% raises.

And December brought the end to a monthslong strike at Kellogg cereal plants — ending with a new contract and immediate, across-the-board wage increases and enhanced benefits for 1,400 workers.

Critics of some of the largest and oldest unions say too much focus on politics has come at the expense of organizing and are a drag on resources they say should go to unionization efforts.

“Political power matters,” Bronfenbrenner said. “But it’s not going to help unions to put all their money and resources into politics if they don’t have worker power.”

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