Labor Historian: Amazon's Warehouse Victory is a Big Step, But Just a StepHistorians in the News
tags: unions, labor history, Amazon, Amazon Labor Union
It's been a big year for the American labor movement.
Thousands of workers hit the picket line for Striketober, union organizers made it to the White House, and Starbucks unions are spreading across the country.
All of that came with a rising number of workers quitting their jobs, reaching a new high in April 2021 that has continued to climb.
Ileen DeVault, a professor of labor history in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, told Insider she's had a lot of reporters calling to ask if these events are changing the trajectory of the decades-long decline in union-membership rates. Her answer was simple: "No."
"It's a drop in the bucket," she said, noting that unionizing a single Starbucks location would add, at most, a few dozen workers to total union membership rates. Even with the momentum and media attention, unionization rates are still at historic lows — and there's a long way to go before unions even approach the strength seen during the unionization highs of the 1950s.
"I've said over and over again that the real change would come when the first Amazon warehouse unionized," DeVault said. "I think that's a major change."
In April, that happened.
The upstart Amazon Labor Union pulled off a surprise victory at the JFK8 Staten Island warehouse — marking a first for the tech-retail behemoth that employs at least 950,000 workers nationwide. Amazon fired ALU's founder, Christian Smalls, in 2020. Now, Time Magazine asks if he's "the future of labor." Smalls recently traveled to the White House, where President Joe Biden commended him.
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