As wealth accumulation disparities widen between the rich and poor, worsened by soaring inflation rates and poor treatment of workers, 2022 may be the “year of the union.”

This is not a surprise. I remember the apathy I felt witnessing Jeff Bezos debut ultra-rich space tourism while my friends closed their small businesses. I recall attending virtual company town hall meetings and listening to senior management, from the comfort of their safe and fully furnished home offices, claim that the staff and company had been “resilient.” And it takes no effort for me to remember when executive managers raised their salaries while laying off my peers. Like many workers, I am shocked at how businesses treated their employees throughout the pandemic.

My perceptions, recollections, and experiences are not unique. During the pandemic, many people left their companies to find new jobs or pivot into new industries, resulting in the red-hot employee market, later dubbed “The Great Resignation” — although it is more accurately described as “The Great Upgrade.” Folks realized that they deserved better and were worth more.

But not everyone left. Some people elected to stay with their current companies, but this does not mean those employers and businesses are immune from The Great Upgrade. In looking at the climate of labor relations, it is obvious that some workers are upgrading their companies rather than leaving them. And they are doing it through unions.

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In the video game industry, Activision Blizzard, Inc., a subsidiary of Activision, is now the first publicly listed video game company in North America to have a union. The bargaining unit consists of 28 video game testers. The unionization comes on the heels of allegations of a “frat boy” work culture that permitted the cruel and intolerable sexual harassment of women employees.

In Philadelphia’s service industry, four Philadelphia Starbucks locations have unionized. The unionization stems from Starbucks corporate headquarters disregarding employee requests for better working conditions, and from alleged retaliation against employees interested in organizing.

In the e-commerce space, Amazon’s tri-state fulfillment center operations have either unionized or could be facing unionization. In April, the Amazon Labor Union was triumphant in their union petition over Amazon on Staten Island, New York. This unionization comes after a top Amazon lawyer remarked that Amazon Labor Union president Chris Smalls was “not smart, or articulate,” and ignored requests for better and safer working conditions. 

Most recently, non-union Amazon workers walked out of a fulfillment center in Bellmawr, New Jersey to protest the effects of the Bellmawr fulfillment center closure. The closure will result in longer commutes for workers to travel to different fulfillment centers without extra compensation and different, less convenient working schedules. While this location is not petitioning for unionization, there was a show of union support from the Communications Workers of America and Teamsters. The non-union Amazon workers are demanding to transfer to a closer location, keep their scheduled work days and start times, and receive a $1 raise to cover related travel expenses.

Organized labor strikes fear in the hearts of small and large business owners alike because of apprehensions related to increased wages and salaries, improved benefits, and legal costs. But business owners and management should welcome unions. Today, employees can easily shift from one job to another, but many are choosing to stay with their current companies and organize with their peers to improve existing working conditions. That shows commitment and dedication to a company.

Like most things, unionization is about working together, and in our great city of Philadelphia, we need to do just that.

When workers organize and collectively bargain, they take an active role in the management and direction of the company, which can improve a business. Case in point: Philadelphia’s own Korshak Bagels employees unionized earlier this year. After unionizing, the organized employees reviewed the shop’s finances and recommended ways to improve the business. Unionized employees need the company to succeed for job security, and the company’s success positively affects the union.

Admittedly, unions also want to, and must, preserve the rights of their members because sometimes employers trample employees’ rights in the pursuit of profits. But adversity between workers’ interests and shareholders’ or business owners’ interests is unnecessary. The interests can and should be balanced.

But the common ground between employers and unions shrinks when executives, like Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, describe unions as an “outside force desperately trying to disrupt our company” and election efforts as an “assault” on Starbucks. Communities are stronger when businesses and people, through their unions, work together rather than against each other. Unionized employees have improved compensation and benefits, thus keeping them healthy and the local economy active. At the same time, businesses may retain employees because of the benefits unions secure, thereby reducing costs attached to turnover.

Like most things, unionization is about working together, and in our great city of Philadelphia, we need to do just that.

Jonathan Koehler is a paralegal, an incoming law student at Rutgers Law School, and a Philadelphia resident focusing on business entities, labor organizations, and other areas of law.

6 thoughts on “Jonathan Koehler: Why unions will fix working conditions and help businesses build back better”

    1. Lol of course you don’t mention all the “progressive” gentrifiers who have been demonizing the building trades unions for the past decade.

  1. Maybe but the last census showed PA losing ground in people and wealth to other states, that are not as union friendly as PA already is. Private unions are great but they’ve also hurt job prospects by being unreasonable over the years.

  2. Janus only dealt with public sector unions that were charging fees – not dues – to those public sector employees who had opted out of union membership under the 1977 Abood decision. Public sector union members are not affected.

  3. With all due respect, you’re a paralegal and law student. You don’t really have a clue about what it’s like for people from Philly trying to come up in the world.

    The only business you mentioned that should be unionized is the Amazon fulfillment centers, as those are the only ones that actually do manual labor for a big company and deserve the benefits of a union. Even without one though, those centers provide the type of stable industrial jobs that barely exist anywhere around here.

    Unions exist for demanding and potentially dangerous jobs. A bunch of most likely privileged video game designers aren’t union employees the same way the fulfillment center workers are, nor are Starbucks employees or the employees of that bagel company.

    That’s what people whose only knowledge of unions and labor comes from college or other outsider theory don’t get. Unionizing entry level jobs won’t ever make up for not having more jobs like at the fulfillment center or the handful of refinery jobs left in the area.

    1. Hi! Thanks so much for commenting.

      First — I am not sure how you can reasonably conclude that I have no “clue about what it’s like for people from Philly trying to come up in the world.” Can you help me understand how you came to this conclusion?

      Second — I would remind you that having a union is not some privilege reserved for the most abused and downtrodden workers. No certain suffering threshold must be reached before being morally justified to organize. And without one, workers in those centers are being injured at twice the rate of all other warehouse workers.

      Third — if we look at the history of the labor movement, particularly during the Gilded Age, jobs were demanding and dangerous. So, yes, unions did partly stem from demanding and dangerous jobs. But unions exist do not exist only for demanding and potentially dangerous jobs. Unions exist to make things better for the class of workers. If you look at the unionization of workers at Activision Blizzard, Inc., you will see that the company was plagued with cruel and intolerable sexual harassment.

      Also, how do you know the video game designers are privileged? Some of them were indecently assaulted at the workplace. And how can you say they aren’t union employees like the fulfillment center workers? To be represented by a union is a union employee.

      Fourth — no one is suggesting unionizing to create more jobs. I am suggesting that employers collaborate with unions to improve their company and the community.

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