Young Workers: Young Workers Stand Tall!

Frank Carino, Member, Young Workers’ Initiative Committee

Merriam-Webster defines a millennial as “a person born in the 1980s or 1990s.” This generation, workers aged 24-44, represents around 40% of the American workforce. With surging costs of housing, healthcare, and education, and real wage stagnation that’s lasted for a decade, it’s no surprise that we’re seeing a revitalization in support of organized labor from this group. A number of studies show support for unions among this group as high as 60%.

As we look at the landscape of the current push for workers’ rights in America, many of the initiatives are being led by these same young workers.

At Amazon, a company notorious for poor labor practices, the labor movement has taken root. Christian Smalls, co-founder of the Amazon Labor Union, was fired for organizing a walkout over COVID-19 safety protocols. Smalls, only 32 years old, was a 5-year employee of Amazon when he led the union’s historic first election victory on April 1, 2022, at the company’s JFK8 fulfillment center. This center is the largest of its kind, with roughly 6,000 employees. With this election, Amazon will now have to sit at the table to discuss pay, benefits, and working conditions, instead of being able to simply change or amend them on a whim.

At Starbucks, another American juggernaut, young workers across the country have pushed for union representation as a means to empower workers. Jaz Brisack, another millennial, born in the late 1990s, was the key architect of the first Starbucks location to vote in favor of forming a union. In response, the company illegally tried to terminate her, which was later overturned by the NLRB.  Despite this, she continues to fight for her co-workers every day. Starbucks employees grew tired of the company referring to them as “partners” without actually treating them with any dignity or respect. Like Amazon, Starbucks workers seek the right to bargain, ensuring their rights to better pay, benefits, working conditions, and progressive discipline. As of the writing of this article, 278 Starbucks locations, representing over 41,000 employees, have voted to unionize.

As we look forward to 2023, and the future, we should be encouraged that the next generation isn’t simply looking to have their rights handed to them, but have joined, and in some cases, led the fight for workers’ rights! The accomplishments of these millennial leaders serve as examples of what can be achieved in our union and for the rights of all workers!