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Local labor leader sees new energy in union organizing

Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons workers ask customers to support them if a strike were to happen, August 27, 2019.
Matthew Bowler
Ralphs, Vons and Albertsons workers ask customers to support them if a strike were to happen in this file photo from August 27, 2019.

Labor unions have won some high-profile victories in the last year. Employees at outlets of major chain stores such as Starbucks, Trader Joe's and Chipotle have voted to unionize.

So have workers at an Amazon warehouse in New York and an Apple factory in Baltimore. In California, the state legislature just passed a bill to make it easier for farmworkers to vote in union elections.

And a plan to set up a first-in-the-nation council to oversee wages and working conditions in fast-food chains was signed Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom.


But even though a recent Gallup poll finds that 71% of Americans approve of labor unions, it may be too soon to speak of an overall union resurgence. Statistics show union membership dropped slightly last year.

Lorena Gonzalez, executive secretary and treasurer of the California Labor Federation, spoke on KPBS Midday Edition on Monday about what she sees as the new energy surrounding union activism. She said the mistreatment of many essential workers during the pandemic is one reason for increased interest in unions, as is a growing awareness of the societal problems caused by wage inequality.

Gonzalez also pointed to the new FAST Recovery Act signed Monday by Governor Gavin Newsom as an innovative way of negotiating between workers and management. The new government council will bring together employees and business leaders to oversee wages and working conditions in California’s major fast-food chains.

She predicts that the next three years will see increased union organizing in a wide range of industries, from nonunion health care workers to employees in big-box store warehouses across the nation.