Bad Takes: May Day may be over, but workers from Amazon to Starbucks aren't done organizing

More than 40 Starbucks stores have unionized, and at least two in San Antonio have filed for representation.

click to enlarge Starbucks workers in Seattle rally for union representation. - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / ELLIOT STOLLER
Wikimedia Commons / Elliot Stoller
Starbucks workers in Seattle rally for union representation.
Bad Takes is a periodic column of opinion and analysis.

"In my view, the union leadership at the bargaining table were behaving more like terrorists than partners." — Ken Hurley, former vice president of human resources and labor relations at the Kellogg Co., during a nearly 10-week cereal plant strike last autumn

On Sunday, May 1, from Nigeria to Iraq to South Korea to India, workers across the globe marched by the tens and hundreds of thousands to commemorate May Day. Violence broke out on the streets of Paris over President Macron's plans to raise the retirement age, in Istanbul over President Erdoğan's autocratic rule and in South Africa over President Ramaphosa's failed attempt to quiet a crowd of angry miners hell-bent on higher wages.

Yet in the Unite States, the nation where International Workers' Day began, it's not even officially recognized.

May Day's origins date back to 1880s Chicago, memorializing the martyrs of the burgeoning labor movement and drumming up support for an eight-hour workday and world peace. Some 140 years later, big business still isn't in a particularly observant mood.

Effective May 2, Amazon cancelled sick leave for those among its million employees who contract a potentially serious and highly contagious respiratory illness that's been going around — blanking on the name. On Tuesday, violating the principle and perhaps the letter of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, Starbucks promised to raise wages but only for non-unionized employees.

Corporations pay lip service to "essential workers" while openly punishing them for trying to collectively bargain for safer workplaces. Management also tacitly encourages them to show up under the weather if they expect to earn a living. Even in the Before Times, 90% of Americans admitted to coming to work sick, yet "influenza rates decrease significantly when employees gain access to paid sick leave."

In 2018, organizers in San Antonio won paid sick leave through an inspiring example of grassroots signature-gathering that compelled city council to adopt the Sick and Safe Leave ordinance. Subsequent business-obsequious court decisions revoked organizers' accomplishment before they could be implemented.

“Texas is the deadliest state for construction workers in the country," said Sandra Cisneros-Peeters of the Workers Defense Project.  It's also the only state that doesn't require employers to provide compensation for on-the-job injuries. Public school teachers have been leaving in droves.

“I have heard teachers say, ‘I don’t get paid enough to put up with this, this job has become too political, this is not about kids anymore, I am sick of being driven by the test and the governor is more concerned about playing politics than my health,'" explained Zeph Capo of the Texas American Federation of Teachers.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Texas as a state ranks 4th from the bottom in union density.

Yet the corporate powers that be haven't completely stamped out the May Day spirit. National Guard members roped into Gov. Greg Abbott's Operation Lone Star debacle are increasingly joining the Texas State Employees Union in response to their lack of basic equipment and missed paychecks.

One such soldier, medic Hunter Schuler, finds it amusing when he's labeled a radical leftist for his decision. “I’m a pretty conservative guy,” he said. “Shit, I voted for Abbott last time.”

Christian Smalls, who successfully organized the first union in Amazon's existence, was fawned over by both liberal comedian Trevor Noah and far-right comedian Tucker Carlson , appearing on the latter's program sporting an "Eat the Rich" jacket.

After Amazon Labor Union's historic victory, Breaking Points podcast pundit Krystal Ball, giddily remarked on the genuineness of the American public's support for said activism: "That's why Americans of all political stripes overwhelmingly backed the strikers at John Deere. That's why support for unions is at record highs. That's why the number of shops filing for union elections has jumped up 57% year over year."

National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) General Counsel Jennifer Abruzzo concurred. "Right now, there is a surge in labor activity nationwide, with workers organizing and filing petitions for more union elections than they have in the last 10 years," she said last month.

Labor historian Erik Loomis put it even more succinctly: "If you see more wins, you’re going to start seeing waves of unionization.”

More than 40 Starbucks stores unionized, and at least two in San Antonio, at Loop 410-Vance Jackson and at 200 E. Houston St., have filed for representation.

On that note, Vince Martinez, a Starbucks barista in Denton who is trying to start a union, penned this heartfelt essay explaining his reasons. Like so many other indefatigable workers, Martinez and his crew are waiting on the NLRB to set a date for their rendezvous with the history of labor activism.

Stay on top of San Antonio news and views. Sign up for our Weekly Headlines Newsletter.