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The Next Labor Movement Is Underway

Sparked by COVID-19 and social networking, the next labor movement is on the rise.  The actions you as an employer take today will determine whether your business succumbs to this swell of pro-union momentum or avoids it unscathed.  So either create a plan now to show you are protecting your own workers, or risk being the union’s next target.  

The Landscape for the New Union Movement

The Coronavirus has isolated most of us, while also banding many together – albeit from a distance.  Workers around the country are assembling to voice concerns and even outrage over working conditions they are “forced” to endure.  In every state employees are uniting to pressure their employers to change working conditions and to create public awareness of health and safety concerns.  Many low income workers who have been classified as “essential” are arguing they are being treated as disposable and are demanding greater protection.  Emotions are running high and that is fuel for the union movement!

            Domestic Activity

The union movement is clever.  From state to state, unions are taking credit for steps being taken to protect employees during the ongoing pandemic.   Unionized nurses and healthcare providers have come together to put pressure on Washington D.C. to provide hospitals with more PPE resources; unionized auto workers have temporarily forced plant closures in Detroit until the factories address new safety concerns; the Association of Flight Attendants and the Airline Pilot Association successfully helped lobby for enhanced benefits for the airline industry in the recently passed CARES Act.

            International Activity

The flexing of union muscle is not limited to the United States.  All across Europe, unions are mobilizing in support of their membership with great success: shortened workweeks and split shifts have been negotiated to reduce unemployment rates; new safety and health concerns are addressed to improve working conditions; improved layoff benefits are negotiated.

Non-Union Domestic Activity is Ramping Up!

The examples above are not lost on non-union workers who are currently scared and suffering along with the rest of the workforce. 

Last month Whole Food’s workers nationwide conducted a sick-out to draw attention to what they felt were unsafe working conditions amid the Coronavirus pandemic.   Whole Foods responded by meeting some of the demands of its workers, including providing improved health benefits and a $2.00 per hour “hazard pay” stipend to employees during the crisis. 

The Whole Foods sick-out grabbed headlines across the globe, but the Whole Food workers were not alone.  Workers from a wide array of industries have gone on strike to draw attention to claims of unsafe working condition amid the pandemic, including workers at Family Dollar, Food Lion, Shell gas stations, Instacart, Amazon warehouses, and at fast food/quick service giants such as Burger King, KFC, McDonald’s and Domino’s, to name just a few.

Some of these group employee actions are organic in nature, others are supported by unions, like Fight for $15.  Regardless of the backing all of them are mobilizing a workforce behind a common cause that could last long into a post-Covid-19 world.

Politicians have Joined to Movement

Last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Ro Khanna introduced the “Essential Workers Bill of Rights.” It is intended to provide health and safety protections, paid sick and medical leave, and premium pay, to those working in businesses deemed “essential”, such as food service, delivery, grocery stores and warehouses.  Senator Warren is pressing law makers to have this new bill of rights incorporated into the next federal Covid-19 economic relief package.

Social Media’s Impact

These pro-union movements are fueled by the ease at which information travels through social media outlets, such as Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.  With a click of a mouse, Burger King workers in North Carolina can virtually meet and rally fellow workers in California, Florida and Missouri to help support their efforts.  The bigger the influence social media has, the smaller the world becomes.  The impact social media will have on labor’s efforts will not go away with the end of COVID-19.  Pro-union supporters will take what they have learned during this moment and apply it to sustain and enhance their efforts into the future.

What Happens Next is Up to You

Union membership is currently at 7% nationwide; however, Covid-19 has begun to galvanize a non-union workforce in ways that has not been seen in decades.  The fact that your workers are in fact safe is not enough to defeat this union tidal wave.  How employers respond to employees demand now and communicate what steps they are taking to protect employees will dictate whether or not this pro-union movement finally reverses the union’s 60 year slide.   

Brody and Associates believes it is critical employers look at how their workforce has changed today and assess what it will look like in a post-Covid-19 world.  Post-Covid-19 preparedness will be essential for employers to survive and thrive in this new world and to continue to keep the unions at bay.  Now is the time to address employment issues currently faced and prepare for those issues on the near horizon.

The subject matter discussed in this post can be very technical.  It is an evolving area of law and very fact specific.  Our goal here is to simply alert you to some of the key issues involved.  We urge you to seek competent legal counsel before applying these ideas to your specific situation.  Brody and Associates stands ready to discuss your particular needs.