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Jessica Cruz
Jessica Cruz

Activist Gig Workers Seek To Form Nonprofit To Support Fellow Workers


More than 250 Starbucks locations filed petitions, and after notching a first win late last year, 54 Starbucks company-owned stores have formally organized. Workers at an Amazon warehouse in New York City recently voted to form the first union at the second-largest U.S. private employer and join the Amazon Labor Union. Google Fiber contractors in Kansas City successfully voted to unionize their small office in March becoming, the first workers with bargaining rights under the one year-old Alphabet Workers Union.




Activist gig workers seek to form nonprofit to support fellow workers


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Richard Bensinger, a union organizer with Starbucks Workers United and a former organizing director of the AFL-CIO believes most of the pro-union workers are in their early 20s, prompting him they are part of a "Gen U" for unions. According to Gallup data from 2021, young adults ages 18 to 34 approve of unions at a rate of 77%.


If the employer fails to provide this information, which is crucial to constructing the demands the workers will put forward, it is considered an unfair labor practice (ULP) under the National Labor Relations Act. While no negotiations committee would release or publish this sensitive data, they can quickly develop a database that allows each worker to see, for example, whether they are being paid under, over, or the same as workers with the same experience and years on the job. This is a key tool used to confront gender-, age-, race-, and ethnicity-based discrimination, as workers at the L.A. Times were able to do by using information request data to call out five-figure pay disparities. Wage and benefits transparency is fundamental to the negotiations process. Discussing and sharing the information requests sent to the employer with all workers is one good way to have them understand a right they have relative to not-yet-unionized workers. [See appendix for an example from Einstein]


Article ChecklistAn informational handout for workers attending bargaining listing each existing or proposed article in the collective bargaining agreement and providing updated information about the status of any proposals related to that article, including any tentative agreements reached and the names of union members working on particular articles. The article checklist should be updated and distributed to attendees for every bargaining session.


UNION PROFILEUNITE HERE represents 300,000 hotel, gaming, food service, and other hospitality workers as well as textile, distribution, laundry, and transportation workers across the United States and Canada. The union was formed out of the merger of the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union in 2004. www.unitehere.org


Union ActivistA union member who is an enthusiastic and ready union supporter but who does not effectively motivate or lead their coworkers to take action. As contrasted with an organic leader.


As the leadership committee in each hotel got their coworkers organized around the key bargaining priorities and continued to add new items under the key themes identified in citywide conversations, the local also began to focus in on negotiations strategy. Hotel workers had generated a transformational set of demands to bring to the bargaining table. How were they going to win them?


At the same time, a formal bargaining committee had come together, made up of both established shop stewards and new leaders like Eusebio and Leonard. Crucially, the committee included both Marriott workers and non-Marriott workers. If the Marriott contract would ultimately be extended to hotels citywide, non-Marriott workers needed a seat at the table in determining what it would say. The committee numbered 34; there were 14 Marriott workers and 20 non-Marriott workers, plus President Brian Lang, and the Financial Secretary Treasurer, Carlos Aramayo. The union also planned to have open bargaining for the first time, encouraging any hotel member from across the city to attend.


Article Checklist (also Bargaining Proposal Tracker): An informational handout for workers attending bargaining listing each existing or proposed article in the collective bargaining agreement and providing updated information about the status of any proposals related to that article, including any tentative agreements reached and the names of union members working on particular articles. The article checklist should be updated and distributed to attendees for every bargaining session.Case Studies: Einstein; NJEA


Big Bargaining: A form of collective bargaining which emphasizes having large numbers of workers present at negotiations sessions, in particular through the use of large bargaining committees. Big bargaining may also be open bargaining and visa versa; however, the two terms are not synonymous.Case Studies: Einstein; NJEA; MNA; UNITE HERE


First Contract:The first collective bargaining agreement reached following union recognition, in which the workers seek to establish core principles such as just cause and union jurisdiction. Under current labor law, workers often face similar union-busting tactics when negotiating a first contract as they do in seeking union recognition. First contract negotiations are often quite lengthy and may fail to result in an agreement.Case Studies: Einstein; NewsGuild


Going Public: In an underground union organizing campaign, the act of publicly announcing that workers are organizing a union. Going public typically occurs only after the union has secured supermajority support and may coincide with a demand for voluntary recognition. Announcing the union campaign and the identities of union leaders provides some protection from employer retaliation and can help bolster public support for workers.Case Studies: NewsGuild


NLRB Election: A process for proving majority support for unionization among workers in a bargaining unit through a secret election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board. NLRB elections are often pursued after an employer refuses to voluntarily recognize the union despite a showing of majority support.Case Studies: Einstein; NewsGuild


Organic Leader: A respected worker who is able to move large numbers of their coworkers to take action. Organic leaders are not necessarily pro-union, as contrasted with pro-union activists. Typically, they have no official title or position.Case Studies: Einstein; NJEA; MNA; UNITE HERE


Organizing Committee: A committee of workers formed for the purpose of organizing towards union recognition. To be effective, the committee is made up of organic leaders from each work area and/or shift. Standing organizing committees may also exist in already-unionized workplaces and serve a similar role to the Contract Action Team in organizing around workplace issues and contract negotiations.Case Studies: NewsGuild


Shop Steward (also Building Representative, Delegate): A union member who has formally taken responsibility for representing their coworkers in grievance proceedings and other union matters. Shop stewards may represent a particular job classification, department, spatial area, or shift within a workplace and may automatically serve on union leadership bodies such as a unit council or bargaining committee. These positions can be appointed or elected, and are typically filled by union activists.Case Studies: NJEA; NewsGuild; MNA; UNITE HERE


Strike Support: Financial or volunteer support for striking workers. May include roles outside of picket duty which are performed by strikers, including administration of hardship benefits, maintaining picket signs and equipment, and coordinating food and water for the picket lines.Case Studies: UNITE HERE


Third-Partying: A form of anti-union rhetoric which refers to the union as something that exists separate and apart from workers themselves. Third-partying undermines the idea that unions are collective and democratic organizations driven by their membership, casting them instead as outside service providers who represent workers in exchange for payment. Unions believe each workplace has two parties, workers and the employer, and the workers are the union. As such, there is no third party.Case Studies: NewsGuild


Underground Organizing: The approach in a new organizing campaign of deliberately organizing quietly and out of sight of the employer until a certain threshold of support has been reached in order to delay triggering an anti-union campaign by the employer. During the underground phase of a new organizing drive, workers refrain from discussing the union outside of one-on-one organizing conversations.Case Studies: NewsGuild


Union Activist: A union member who is an enthusiastic and ready union supporter but who does not effectively motivate or lead their coworkers to take action. As contrasted with an organic leader.Case Studies: Einstein; UNITE HERE


Union Difference: The difference between the union standard and the wages and benefits for nonunion workers in the same industry and sector within the same labor market or employer. Employers may deliberately seek to eliminate elements of the union difference, in particular any wage gap, by attacking the union standard and/or by raising wages for its unrepresented employees in order to discourage unionization.Case Studies: MNA; UNITE HERE


Bernie Sanders was the first candidate to call for national legislation to bar gig companies from classifying workers as freelancers. A few months later, Elizabeth Warren announced support for California legislation that limits which industries can employ gig workers and pledged to enact a similar federal law.


Trucking companies won a reprieve from the law while their court challenge to it proceeds, but freelance journalists did not. In the months since, the Legislature has carved out more exemption for musicians and interpreters. Gig workers have filed a class-action lawsuit seeking retroactive pay, overtime and benefits.


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