In this article:
- From Amazon to Starbucks to Kellogg’s, in these past few months, we have witnessed workers take on some of the biggest corporations in America — and win.
- We have also seen reports of aggressive union-busting tactics, including bullying and even firing workers who are trying to organize their co-workers.
- If watching the news on any of the current labor movements has left you wishing you could do more to help those workers as they face increasingly harsh anti-union backlash, try some of these ways to support union movements, even if you’re not a worker.
The past few months have witnessed multiple massive, history-making unionization milestones. Last December, Kellogg’s workers won a major victory thanks, in part, to the support of the r/antiwork subreddit.
Throughout this past winter, Starbucks workers have managed to unionize over 25 locations, including one in Starbucks HQ’s backyard in Seattle. We’re even seeing Lyft and Uber drivers mobilize in spite of their status as “contractors” rather than employees.
The most impressive feat to date, though, may be the Amazon Labor Union’s victory in Staten Island, officially marking the first union for the eCommerce giant’s workers, who’ve reported some of the most inhumane conditions in recent history.
If you don’t work for any of these companies, following the rollercoaster of wins and losses can be a nail-biting experience that leaves you feeling powerless to help. The question I’ve asked myself — and had many people ask me — is: what can I do to support union movements when I’m not a worker myself?
Here are some ideas.
7 Ways To Support Union Movements Even if You Aren’t a Worker
Volunteer to Make Calls or Do Outreach
The Staten Island victory is just the beginning for the Amazon Labor Union. In a tweet after the victory, Chris Smalls said dozens of other locations had contacted ALU about unionizing.
Likewise, SB Workers United is still working on bringing hundreds of other Starbucks locations into the union.
That means they still need your help and support. The ALU has a volunteer page where you can sign up and choose which tasks you’d be able to help with. The organization needs people to make calls to workers, knock on doors, host events, and help with tabling events.
For SB Workers United, you can sign the Non-Interference Petition demanding Starbucks stop union-busting. You can also send your info over via the contact form on the homepage to add yourself to their volunteer list.
Buy SB Workers United or ALU Merch
Starbucks Workers United has an online store where you can buy shirts, mugs, pins, and other merch with the SB Workers United logo. Likewise, the ALU just launched its own online storefront in April. All proceeds for both stores support union movements across the United States and around the world.
Bonus points: wearing your SB Workers United or ALU gear is a good way to spread awareness about both movements. So grab a T-shirt, hat, hoodie or other merch from each store – or just donate to the two organizations if you don’t want any merch.
Use Your Social Media Platform to Raise Awareness About Union Campaigns
In addition to volunteering or funding campaigns through donations or buying merch, you can also support union movements by simply talking about unions in general and the current unionizing campaigns specifically.
Even if you don’t have a major following, sharing news and information about these campaigns can still boost engagement and make an impact.
Share articles and retweet or repost messages from ALU, SB Workers United, and other labor movements. Talk about unions in a way that you think will connect with your friends and family on your social media.
Brush Up on Your Union Knowledge
With any major labor movement comes major blowback and resistance. As Amazon and Starbucks have both made clear, many companies would rather spend millions on union-busting and spreading misinformation than on just increasing wages for their workers.
That misinformation has done serious damage to unions in the United States.
As you start talking more about these issues, you’re bound to encounter some counterarguments and questions. Here’s a (really rough and short) primer on how to respond to some of the most common ones:
- Unions are for the lazy. Managers like to say that unions are just a way for lazy workers to avoid accountability. The idea seems to be that if you’re great at your job, you don’t need rights or benefits, I guess? The reality is that unions are a way for workers to pool their power together to make sure they’re getting the wages and benefits they deserve for that great work.
- Unions don’t really do anything. Union membership may be at an all-time low but even in their current less-popular state, union members still get paid about 19% more on average compared to non-union workers.
They’re also more likely to have other benefits like health insurance and pensions. Unions are also effective at curbing discrimination, improving workplace safety, and preventing employers from firing workers without just cause.
- Dues are too expensive. First: dues are usually a flat 1-2% from each paycheck. Given that unionized workers make about 19% more on average and save money on healthcare by being more likely to have employer-provided insurance, the benefits far outweigh the costs.
- Unionizing will force a company (or branch) to close. There is no evidence that unionization forces companies to close. It’s true that companies often threaten to close if workers start talking about unionizing, but that kind of threat is illegal (and you can file a complaint with the NLRB if your workplace says that).
- Unions will force you to strike. Strikes don’t happen unless workers vote to go on strike. And even then, it’s saved as a last resort used only after a company refuses to meet workers’ demands during negotiations.
- Unions will force you to join. Many right-to-work states like to warn against “compulsory unionism” but the truth is “closed shops” or companies that only hire union members are illegal, even in non-right-to-work states.
Even if everybody else in a company is in the union, you still have the right to opt out at any time, meaning you won’t be charged dues (but also won’t benefit from the raises or benefits won in union contracts).
To get more in-depth information to counter these myths, check out this reading list on labor movements.
Reach Out Directly to Friends and Family at Unionizing Workplaces
Maybe you don’t work at Starbucks or Amazon or the other major companies where workers are organizing but you might know someone who is. Talk to them about unions. Help them connect with the ALU or SB Workers United movements to bring the campaign to your neighborhood coffeehouse or warehouse.
Getting more workers and locations on board is one of the most powerful ways you could support union movements.
Support Striking Workers
When Kellogg’s workers went on strike, allies everywhere rallied to support them. That took the form of boycotting Kellogg’s products and even writing a program that broke the company’s online hiring portal when it was trying to fill vacancies after firing the strikers.
That widespread support helped amp up the pressure on Kellogg’s to agree to the demands those striking workers were making.
Some of the most urgent and impactful ways to support any strike include:
- Boycotting the company’s products or services.
- Voicing your support for the strike loudly, publicly, and often.
- Joining the picket line as an ally if you live nearby.
- Donating to strike support funds. This money typically goes toward food, bills, and other costs that striking workers might struggle to pay while on strike.
- Writing to your representatives to demand they support the strike.
Start Organizing Your Own Workplace
If this recent wave of labor victories has inspired you to want to support union movements, let it also inspire you to take action at your own workplace.
If you’re not already in a union, there are tons of resources out there to help you start — even if you’re shy, even if you’re part of a small team, even if you’ve got a dozen excuses for why you’re not the right person or your workplace isn’t the right place.
It’s an uphill battle, to be sure, but the good news is: you won’t be fighting alone.
And the more workers in any industry are unionized, the easier it is to pressure businesses and policymakers to support union movements everywhere.