Over the past year, workers at Starbucks, Amazon, Trader Joe’s and Apple have all achieved historic, hard-won union victories, but now many of these newly unionized workers fear they might face an even bigger challenge: negotiating a first union contract.
Exhibit A for that challenge is the slow pace of progress at Starbucks. Unions have won elections at more than 220 stores. Many baristas are upset that Starbucks has begun negotiations with workers at only three of them.
Agreeing on a first contract quickly is a high-stakes matter. If unionized workers at Starbucks, Amazon or Trader Joe’s facilities quickly reach first contracts that contain impressive raises and benefits, that will no doubt inspire workers at many other Starbucks, Amazon and Trader Joe’s operations to seek to unionize. But if companies manage to drag out reaching a first contract for a year or two or three, that could send a strong signal that unionization might not be the boon workers had hoped for.
“For Jeff Bezos and Howard Schultz, Amazon and Starbucks are their babies,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University. “They feel a union is a violation of everything they achieved. This is real personal for them. They’ll fight to the end to prevent a contract.”
Bronfenbrenner said Starbucks and Amazon know that if they drag out contract negotiations, there will be huge employee turnover and workers might grow impatient and disgruntled with their unions, which may prompt them to vote to decertify it.