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    Trader Joe’s Workers File to Hold Company’s First Union Election

    The workers, at a store in western Massachusetts, cited health and safety concerns and cuts to benefits at the grocery chain.In a sign that service industry workers continue to have a strong interest in unionizing after successful votes at Starbucks, REI and Amazon, employees at a Trader Joe’s in western Massachusetts have filed for a union election. If they win, they will create the only union at Trader Joe’s, which has more than 500 locations and 50,000 employees nationwide.The filing with the National Labor Relations Board late Tuesday seeks an election involving about 85 employees who would form an independent union, Trader Joe’s United, rather than affiliate with an established labor organization. That echoes the independent union created by Amazon workers on Staten Island and the worker-led organizing at Starbucks.“Over the past however many years, changes have been happening without our consent,” said Maeg Yosef, an 18-year employee of the store who is a leader of the union campaign. “We wanted to be in charge of the whole process, to be our own union. So we decided to go independent.”Ms. Yosef said the union had support from over 50 percent of workers at the store, known as crew members.“We have always said we welcome a fair vote and are prepared to hold a vote if more than 30 percent of the crew wants one,” said a company spokeswoman, Nakia Rohde, alluding to the N.L.R.B. threshold for an election. “We are not interested in delaying the process in any way.”The company shared a similar statement with workers after they announced their intention to unionize in mid-May.In explaining their decision, Ms. Yosef and four colleagues, all of whom have been with the company for at least eight years, cited changes that had made their benefits less generous over time, as well as health and safety concerns, many of which were magnified during the pandemic.“This is probably where we get to all of these things coming together,” said Tony Falco, another worker involved in the union campaign, alluding to Covid-19.Mr. Falco said the store, in Hadley, took several reassuring steps during the first 12 to 15 months of the pandemic. Management enforced masking requirements and restrictions on the number of customers who could be in the store at once. It allowed workers to take leaves of absence while continuing to receive health insurance and gave workers additional “thank you” pay as high as $4 per hour.But Mr. Falco and others said the company was too quick to roll back many of these measures — including additional pay — as vaccines became widely available last year, and noted that the store had suffered Covid outbreaks in the past several weeks after masking became laxer. The store followed the policy of the local health board, which altered its mask mandate at various points, lifting it most recently in March.Some employees were also upset that the company did not inform them that the state had passed a law requiring employers to provide up to five paid days off for workers who missed work because of Covid.“It was in effect seven months, and they never announced it,” Ms. Yosef said. “I figured that out at the end of December, early January.”Ms. Rohde, the spokeswoman, said this account was incorrect, but four other employees who support the union also said the company had not told them of the policy.A Trader Joe’s store in New York. Early in the pandemic, the chief executive wrote that union advocates “clearly believe that now is a moment when they can create some sort of wedge in our company.”Benjamin Norman for The New York TimesTrader Joe’s has generally resisted unionization over the years, including earlier in the pandemic. In March 2020, the chief executive, Dan Bane, sent employees a letter referring to “the current barrage of union activity that has been directed at Trader Joe’s” and complaining that union advocates “clearly believe that now is a moment when they can create some sort of wedge in our company through which they can drive discontent.”The company’s response to the current campaign appears somewhat less hostile, though union organizers have recently filed charges of unfair labor practices, such as asking employees to remove pro-union pins.Several employees said a broader issue was underlying their frustrations: what they saw as the company’s evolution from a niche outlet known for pampering customers and treating employees generously to an industrial-scale chain that is more focused on the bottom line.The company’s employee handbook urges workers to provide a “Wow customer experience,” which it defines as “the feelings a customer gets about our delight that they are shopping with us.” But longtime employees say the company, which is privately held, has gradually become stingier with workers.For years, the company offered health care widely to part-timers. In the early 2010s, the company raised the average weekly hours that employees needed to qualify for full health coverage to 30 from roughly 20, informing those who no longer qualified that they could receive coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act instead. (The company dropped the threshold to 28 hours more recently.)“It was done under the guise of ‘You can get these plans, they’re the same plans,’ but they were not the same plans,” said Sarah Yosef, the Hadley store’s manager at the time, who later stepped back from the role and is now a frontline worker there.“I had to sit there individually with crew members saying you’re going to be losing health insurance,” added Ms. Yosef, who is married to Maeg Yosef.Retirement benefits have followed a similar trajectory: Around the same time, Trader Joe’s lowered its retirement contribution to 10 percent of an employee’s earnings from about 15 percent, for employees 30 and older. Beginning with last year’s benefit, the company lowered the percentage again for many workers, who saw the contribution fall to 5 percent. The company is no longer specifying any set amount.Tony Falco and Sarah Yosef at the Trader Joe’s store in Hadley. She said, “I had to sit there individually with crew members saying you’re going to be losing health insurance.”Holly Lynton for The New York TimesMs. Rohde, the spokeswoman, said the change was partly a response to indications from many workers that they would prefer a bonus to a retirement contribution.Workers said the company’s determination to provide an intimate shopping experience had often come at their expense amid a rapid increase in business over the past decade, and then again with the resurgence of business as pandemic restrictions lifted.For example, Trader Joe’s doesn’t have conveyor belts at checkout lines and instructs cashiers to reach into customers’ carts or baskets to unload items. This can appear to personalize the service but takes a physical toll on workers, who typically bend over hundreds of times during a shift.(The company asks workers to perform different tasks throughout the day so they are not constantly ringing up customers.)Maeg Yosef and her co-workers began discussing the union campaign over the winter, angry over the store’s failure to publicize the state-mandated paid leave benefit and the change in retirement benefits, and some have drawn inspiration from the successful union elections at Starbucks, Amazon and REI.Their union campaign may also benefit from the same leverage that workers at those companies enjoyed as a result of the relatively tight job market.“People just keep leaving — I know they want to hire people now,” Maeg Yosef said. “It’s hard to keep people around.” More

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    Why Union Efforts at Starbucks Have Spread Further Than at Amazon

    Why has the union campaign spread so much further at the coffee chain than at the e-commerce giant?Roughly six weeks after successful union votes at two Buffalo-area Starbucks stores in December, workers had filed paperwork to hold union elections in at least 20 other Starbucks locations nationwide.By contrast, since the Amazon Labor Union’s victory last month in a vote at a huge warehouse on Staten Island, workers at just one other Amazon facility have filed for a union election — with an obscure union with a checkered past — before promptly withdrawing their petition.The difference may come as a surprise to those who believed that organizing at Amazon might follow the explosive pattern witnessed at Starbucks, where workers at more than 250 stores have filed for elections and the union has prevailed at a vast majority of the locations that have voted.Christian Smalls, the president of the independent Amazon Labor Union, told NPR shortly after the victory that his group had heard from workers in 50 other Amazon facilities, adding, “Just like the Starbucks movement, we want to spread like wildfire across the nation.”The two campaigns share some features — most notably, both are largely overseen by workers rather than professional organizers. And the Amazon Labor Union has made more headway at Amazon than most experts expected, and more than any established union.But unionizing workers at Amazon was always likely to be a longer, messier slog given the scale of its facilities and the nature of the workplace. “Amazon is so much harder a nut to crack,” John Logan, a labor studies professor at San Francisco State University, said by email. The union recently lost a vote at a smaller warehouse on Staten Island.To win, a union must get the backing of more than 50 percent of the workers who cast a vote. That means 15 or 20 pro-union workers can ensure victory in a typical Starbucks store — a level of support that can be summoned in hours or days. At Amazon warehouses, a union frequently would have to win hundreds or thousands of votes.Organizers for the Amazon Labor Union spent hundreds of hours talking with co-workers inside the warehouse during breaks, after work and on days off. They held cookouts at a bus stop outside the warehouse and communicated with hundreds of colleagues through WhatsApp groups.Brian Denning, who leads an Amazon organizing campaign sponsored by the Democratic Socialists of America chapter in Portland, Ore., said his group had received six or seven inquiries a week from Amazon workers and contractors after the Staten Island victory, versus one or two a week beforehand.But Mr. Denning, a former Amazon warehouse employee who tells workers that they are the ones who must lead a union campaign, said that many didn’t realize how much effort unionizing required, and that some became discouraged once he conferred with them.Understand the Unionization Efforts at AmazonBeating Amazon: A homegrown, low-budget push to unionize at a Staten Island warehouse led to a historic labor victory. (Workers at another nearby Amazon facility rejected joining a similar effort shortly after.)Retaliation: Weeks after the landmark win, Amazon fired several managers in Staten Island. Some see it as retaliation for their involvement in the unionization efforts.A New Playbook: The success of the Amazon union’s independent drive has organized labor asking whether it should take more of a back seat.Amazon’s Approach: The company has countered unionization efforts with mandatory “training” sessions that carry clear anti-union messages.“We get people saying how do we get an A.L.U. situation here? How do we do that like they did?” Mr. Denning said, adding: “I don’t want to scare them away. But I can’t lie to workers. This is what it is. It’s not for everyone.”At Starbucks, employees work together in a relatively small space, sometimes without a manager present to supervise them directly for hours at a time. This allows them to openly discuss concerns about pay and working conditions and the merits of a union.At Amazon, the warehouses are cavernous, and workers are often more isolated and more closely supervised, especially during an organizing campaign.“What they would do is strategically separate me from everyone in my department,” said Derrick Palmer, an Amazon employee on Staten Island who is one of the union’s vice presidents. “If they see me interacting with that person, they would move them to a different station.”Asked about the allegation, Amazon said it assigned employees to work stations and tasks based on operational needs.Both companies have accused the unions of their own unfair tactics, including intimidating workers and inciting hostile confrontations.Organizing drivers is an even greater challenge, partly because they are officially employed by contractors that Amazon hires, though labor organizers say they would like to pressure the company to address drivers’ concerns.Christy Cameron, a former driver at an Amazon facility near St. Louis, said the job’s setup largely kept drivers from interacting. At the beginning of each shift, a manager for the contractor briefs drivers, who then disperse to their trucks, help load them and get on the road.“It leaves very little time to talk with co-workers outside of a hello,” Ms. Cameron said in a text message, adding that Amazon’s training discouraged discussing working conditions with fellow drivers. “It was generally how they are highly against unionizing and don’t talk about pay and benefits with each other.”Amazon, with about a million U.S. workers, and Starbucks, with just under 250,000, offer similar pay. Amazon has said that its minimum hourly wage is $15 and that the average starting wage in warehouses is above $18. Starbucks has said that as of August its minimum hourly wage will be $15 and that the average will be nearly $17.Starbucks workers celebrated the results of a vote to unionize in Buffalo last year.Joshua Bessex/Associated PressDespite the similarity in pay, organizers say the dynamics of the companies’ work forces can be quite different.At the Staten Island warehouse where Amazon workers voted against unionizing, many employees work four-hour shifts and commute 30 to 60 minutes each way, suggesting they have limited alternatives.“People who go to that length for a four-hour job — it’s a particular group of people who are really struggling to make it,” said Gene Bruskin, a longtime labor organizer who advised the Amazon Labor Union in the two Staten Island elections, in an interview last month.As a result of all this, organizing at Amazon may involve incremental gains rather than high-profile election victories. In the Minneapolis area, a group of primarily Somali-speaking Amazon workers has staged protests and received concessions from the company, such as a review process for firings related to productivity targets. Chicago-area workers involved in the group Amazonians United received pay increases not long after a walkout in December.Ted Miin, an Amazon worker who is one of the group’s members, said the concessions had followed eight or nine months of organizing, versus the minimum of two years he estimates it would have taken to win a union election and negotiate a first contract.For workers who seek a contract, the processes for negotiating one at Starbucks and Amazon may differ. In most cases, bargaining for improvements in compensation and working conditions requires additional pressure on the employer.At Starbucks, that pressure is in some sense the union’s momentum from election victories. “The spread of the campaign gives the union the ability to win in bargaining,” Mr. Logan said. (Starbucks has nonetheless said it will withhold new pay and benefit increases from workers who have unionized, saying such provisions must be bargained.)At Amazon, by contrast, the pressure needed to win a contract will probably come through other means. Some are conventional, like continuing to organize warehouse employees, who could decide to strike if Amazon refuses to recognize them or bargain. The company is challenging the union victory on Staten Island.But the union is also enlisting political allies with an eye toward pressuring Amazon. Mr. Smalls, the union president, testified this month at a Senate hearing that was exploring whether the federal government should deny contracts to companies that violate labor laws.On Thursday, Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, introduced legislation seeking to prevent employers from deducting anti-union activity, like hiring consultants to dissuade workers from unionizing, as a business expense.While many of these efforts may be more symbolic than substantive, some appear to have gotten traction. After the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced last summer that it was awarding Amazon a 20-year lease at Newark Liberty International Airport to develop an air cargo hub, a coalition of community, labor and environmental groups mobilized against the project.The status of the lease, which was to become final by late last year, remains unclear. The Port Authority said that lease negotiations with Amazon were continuing and that it continued to seek community input. An Amazon spokeswoman said the company was confident the deal would close.A spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey indicated that the company might have to negotiate with labor groups before the deal could go forward. “The governor encourages anyone doing business in our state to work collaboratively with labor partners in good faith,” the spokeswoman said.Karen Weise More

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    Labor board issues complaint against Starbucks in firing of 7 workers.

    The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against Starbucks on Friday for what the agency said was the unlawful firing of seven employees in Memphis in retaliation for seeking to unionize.The labor board said the company fired the workers in February because they “joined or assisted the union and engaged in concerted activities, and to discourage employees from engaging in these activities.”The employees are part of a wave of organizing at Starbucks in which workers have voted to unionize at more than 20 stores and filed petitions to hold votes at more than 200. The company has roughly 9,000 corporate-owned locations nationwide.Complaints are issued after a labor board regional office concludes that there is merit to accusations against employers or unions and are litigated before an administrative law judge. The regional office is seeking to require that Starbucks make the fired employees whole — for example, by reimbursing them for lost wages. The company could appeal an adverse decision to the national labor board in Washington.“Although we are excited about the news, we knew from the moment each of us were terminated that this would be the outcome,” Nikki Taylor, one of the fired workers, said in a statement. “We are excited for the public to know the truth and to return to work at our soon-to-be-unionized Starbucks.”Starbucks did not immediately comment but said at the time that it had fired the workers for violating safety and security policies, including allowing members of the media into the store to conduct interviews after hours and failing to wear masks during the encounter. More

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    Atlanta Apple Store Workers Are the First to Formally Seek a Union

    Employees at an Apple store in Atlanta filed a petition on Wednesday to hold a union election. If successful, the workers could form the first union at an Apple retail store in the United States.The move continues a recent trend of service-sector unionization in which unions have won elections at Starbucks, Amazon and REI locations.The workers are hoping to join the Communications Workers of America, which represents workers at companies like AT&T Mobility and Verizon, and has made a concerted push into the tech sector in recent years.The union says that about 100 workers at the store — at Cumberland Mall, in northwest Atlanta — are eligible to vote, including salespeople and repair technicians, and that over 70 percent of them have signed authorization cards indicating their support.In a statement, the union said Apple, like other tech employers, had effectively created a tiered work force that denied retail workers the pay, benefits and respect that workers earned at its corporate offices.Workers said they loved working at Apple but sometimes felt they were treated like second-class employees. “We want equal to what corporate actually gets,” said Sydney Rhodes, an employee at the store who is involved in the union campaign.Ms. Rhodes, who has worked at Apple for four years, said that she and many of her co-workers hoped to continue working for Apple for years to come but that it was often unclear how they could progress within the company. “Another reason why we’re working toward this union is for a more clear and concise way to grow, especially internally,” she added.An Apple spokesman said the company offered strong benefits, including health care coverage, tuition reimbursement and paid family leave, and a minimum pay rate of $20 per hour for retail workers.“We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members, and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple,” the spokesman said, but declined to comment on the union effort. The company would not say whether it would recognize the union voluntarily.Officials at the National Labor Relations Board will next determine whether there is sufficient interest among workers to hold an election — the bar is officially 30 percent — and set the terms for a potential vote. Both the union and the employer will have an opportunity to weigh in on the details, including the universe of employees eligible to take part and whether the vote should occur by mail or in person.Other unions, most notably Workers United, an affiliate of the giant Service Employees International Union that has led the organizing campaign at Starbucks, are also seeking to unionize Apple retail workers, of which there are tens of thousands in the United States.Workers at an Apple Store at Grand Central Terminal in New York City have begun to sign authorization cards that could lead to a filing for a union vote that would allow them to join Workers United. The move was reported over the weekend by The Washington Post.Activism and labor organizing at Apple have been building since last summer, when discontent over the company’s plan to require employees to return to the office snowballed into a broader movement, called #AppleToo. That movement aimed to highlight workplace problems like harassment, unequal pay and what workers described as a culture of secrecy that pervaded the company.“Apple workers across every line of business and around the world are using their voices to demand better treatment,” Janneke Parrish, one of the #AppleToo leaders, said of the union effort. Ms. Parrish has said Apple fired her in retaliation for her organizing. “I’m so happy to see workers taking this big step to stand up for their rights,” she said. Apple has disputed Ms. Parrish’s accusations.The #AppleToo movement included retail workers, who have said throughout the pandemic that Apple did not do enough to keep them safe from the coronavirus.Retail workers’ complaints escalated late last year when the Omicron variant spread rapidly throughout the country and at least 20 Apple stores had to close temporarily as a precaution or because so many of their workers had become infected that the stores could no longer operate. On Christmas Eve, several dozen Apple workers walked off their jobs to demand better pay and working conditions. Ms. Rhodes said that the effort at her store began in earnest last fall, and that her co-workers had taken encouragement from the union campaigns at companies like Starbucks and Amazon.Beyond its overtures at Apple, the communications workers union has had a presence at Google in recent years, helping workers form a so-called solidarity or minority union that enables them to coordinate actions without holding a union election and seeking certification from the labor board. Companies are not required to bargain with minority unions, as they are with more formal unions.The union also recently won a vote to represent about one dozen retail employees at Google Fiber stores in Kansas City, Mo., who are formally employed by a Google contractor. It is seeking to represent a few dozen Wisconsin-based quality assurance workers at the video-game maker Activision Blizzard, which Microsoft is acquiring, pending approval from regulators. More

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    Starbucks Union Campaign Continues Its Momentum

    Starbucks workers have added to the momentum of a union campaign that went public in late August and has upended decades of union-free labor at the company’s corporate-owned stores.On Thursday and Friday, workers at six stores in upstate New York voted to unionize, according to the National Labor Relations Board, bringing the total number of company-owned stores where workers have backed a union to 16. The union, Workers United, was also leading by a wide margin at a store in Kansas whose votes were tallied Friday, but the number of challenged ballots leaves the outcome officially in doubt until their status can be resolved.The union has lost only a single election so far, but it is formally challenging the outcome.Since the union secured its first two victories in elections that concluded in December, workers at more than 175 other stores across at least 25 states have filed for union elections, out of roughly 9,000 corporate-owned stores in the United States. The labor board will count ballots in at least three more stores next week.The organizing success at Starbucks appears to reflect a growing interest among workers in unionizing, including the efforts at Amazon, where workers last week voted to unionize a Staten Island warehouse by a significant margin.On Wednesday, the general counsel of the labor board, Jennifer Abruzzo, announced that union election filings were up more than 50 percent during the previous six months versus the same period one year earlier. Ms. Abruzzo expressed concern that funding and staff shortages were making it difficult for the agency to keep up with the activity, saying in a statement that the board “needs a significant increase of funds to fully effectuate the mission of the agency.”Starbucks has sought to persuade workers not to unionize by holding anti-union meetings with workers and conversations between managers and individual employees, but some employees say the meetings have only galvanized their support for organizing.In some cases, Starbucks has also sent a number of senior officials to stores from out of town, a move the company says is intended to address operational issues like staffing and training but which some union supporters have said they find intimidating.The union has accused Starbucks of seeking to cut back hours nationally as a way to encourage longtime employees to leave the company and replace them with workers who are more skeptical about unionizing. And the union argues that Starbucks has retaliated against workers for supporting the union by disciplining or firing them. Last month, the labor board issued a formal complaint against Starbucks for retaliating against two Arizona employees, a step it takes after finding merit in accusations against employers or unions.The company has denied that it has cut hours to prompt employees to leave, saying it schedules workers in response to customer demand, and it has rejected accusations of anti-union activity.As the union campaign accelerated in March, the company announced that Kevin Johnson, who had served as chief executive since 2017, would be replaced on an interim basis by Howard Schultz, who had led the company twice before and remained one of its largest investors.Some investors who had warned Mr. Johnson that the company’s anti-union tactics could damage its reputation expressed optimism that the leadership change might bring about a shift in Starbucks’s posture toward the union. But the company soon announced that it would not agree to stay neutral in union elections, as the union has requested, dampening those hopes.On Monday, the same day that Mr. Schultz returned as chief executive, the company fired Laila Dalton, one of the two Arizona workers the N.L.R.B. had accused Starbucks of retaliating against in March. The company said that Ms. Dalton had violated company rules by recording co-workers’ conversations without their permission.“A partner’s interest in a union does not exempt them from the standards we have always held,” Reggie Borges, a company spokesman, said in a statement, using the company’s term for an employee. More

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    NLRB Counsel Calls for Ban on Mandatory Anti-Union Meetings

    The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued a memo on Thursday arguing that the widespread employer practice of requiring workers to attend anti-union meetings is illegal under federal law, even though labor board precedent has allowed it.The general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, who enforces federal labor law by prosecuting violations, said her office would soon file a brief in a case before the labor board, which adjudicates such questions, asking the board to reverse its precedent on the meetings.“This license to coerce is an anomaly in labor law, inconsistent with the act’s protection of employees’ free choice,” Ms. Abruzzo said in a statement, referring to the National Labor Relations Act. “I believe that the N.L.R.B. case precedent, which has tolerated such meetings, is at odds with fundamental labor-law principles, our statutory language and our congressional mandate.”In recent months, high-profile employers like Amazon and Starbucks, which are facing growing union campaigns, have held hundreds of meetings in which they try to persuade workers not to unionize by arguing that unions are a “third party” that would come between management and workers.Amazon officials and consultants have repeatedly told workers in mandatory meetings that they “could end up with more wages and benefits than they had prior to the union, the same amount that they had or potentially could end up with less,” according to testimony from N.L.R.B. hearings about a union election in Alabama last year.The company spent more than $4 million last year on consultants who took part in such meetings and sought out workers on warehouse floors.But many workers and union officials complain that these claims are highly misleading. Unionized employees typically earn more than similar nonunion employees, and it is highly unusual for compensation to fall as a result of a union contract.Wilma B. Liebman, who headed the labor board under President Barack Obama, said it would probably be sympathetic to Ms. Abruzzo’s argument and could reverse its precedent. But Ms. Liebman said it was unclear what practical effect a reversal would have, since many employees may feel compelled to attend anti-union meetings even if they were no longer mandatory.“Those on the fence may be reluctant not to attend for fear of retaliation or being singled out,” she wrote by email.According to a spokeswoman, the board’s regional offices, which Ms. Abruzzo oversees, are also likely to issue complaints against employers over the meetings. One union, the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, has brought such a case in Bessemer, Ala., where it recently helped organize workers seeking to unionize an Amazon warehouse. A vote count last week showed union supporters narrowly trailing union opponents in that election, but the outcome will hinge on several hundred challenged votes whose status will be determined in the coming weeks.The labor board spokeswoman said the outcome of the board’s “lead” case on the mandatory meetings would bind the other cases. The case is pending but has not been identified. More

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    Starbucks fires Memphis workers involved in unionization efforts.

    Starbucks on Tuesday fired seven employees in Memphis who were seeking to unionize their store, one of several dozen nationwide where workers have filed for union elections since December.A Starbucks spokesman said the employees had violated company safety and security policies. The union seeking to organize the store accused Starbucks of retaliating against the workers for their labor activities.The firings relate at least in part to an interview that workers conducted at the store with a local media outlet.Reggie Borges, a company spokesman, said in an email that Starbucks fired the workers after an investigation revealed violations. He cited a photograph on Twitter showing that store employees had allowed media representatives inside the store to conduct interviews, in which some of the employees were unmasked and which he said had taken place after hours. “That is a clear policy violation, not to mention the lack of masks,” Mr. Borges wrote.Among the violations, Mr. Borges said, were opening a locked door at their store; remaining inside the store without authorization after it had closed; allowing other unauthorized individuals inside the store after it had closed; and allowing unauthorized individuals in parts of the store where access is typically restricted.He also wrote that one employee had opened a store safe when the employee was not authorized to do so and that another employee had failed to step in to prevent this violation.Two of the terminated employees said that some of the supposed violations were common practices at the store and that employees were not previously disciplined over them. They said, for example, that off-duty employees frequently went to the back of the store to check their schedules, which are posted there. Mr. Borges said that this was uncommon when a store is closed.One of the former workers, Beto Sanchez, said he was the employee accused of opening a store safe without authorization. He said that as a shift supervisor, he was normally authorized to open the safe and that he had done so to help a colleague on the evening of the media interview, when he was not on duty. He wondered why he had been fired over the violation rather than disciplined some other way.In a statement, Starbucks Workers United, the union that represents workers at two stores in Buffalo and that is helping to unionize Starbucks workers across the country, said, “Starbucks chose to selectively enforce policies that have not previously been consistently enforced as a pretext to fire union leaders.”The union said on Twitter that the company was “repeating history by retaliating against unionizing workers.”A judge for the National Labor Relations Board found last year that Starbucks in 2019 and 2020 had unlawfully disciplined and fired two employees seeking to unionize a store in Philadelphia. Starbucks has appealed the ruling.A petition filed with the labor board seeking a union vote at the store says 20 employees there would be eligible for membership.Wilma Liebman, who headed the labor board under President Barack Obama, said that to prove that the firings constituted unjust retaliation, the board’s general counsel would have to show that the workers were engaged in union activity and that the union activity played a “substantial or motivating” role in the decision to fire them.One question in resolving the latter issue is whether Starbucks typically fires employees, whom it refers to as partners, over similar infractions.Mr. Borges, the spokesman, wrote: “We absolutely fire partners who let unauthorized people or partners in the store after hours and/or violate policies like letting others handle cash in the safe when not authorized to do so. This is a common, understood policy by partners as it brings an element of safety and security risk that crosses a number of lines.”He did not immediately provide data on the number of employees fired for such violations in a typical year. More

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    What Social Trends Told Us About the American Economy in 2021

    If 2020 was the year that made Zoom a verb and imbued the phrase “online dating” with new meaning, 2021 was its annoying younger sibling. Things were not quite as novel and scary as the darkest early days of the pandemic and initial state and local lockdowns, but the year found new and creative ways to be bad.Shutdowns weren’t nearly as widespread, but continued waves of coronavirus infection caused factories to shutter and people to retrench from economic life. This was a year in which the Duke of Hastings replaced the Tiger King as a national obsession, vaccine cards became a passport to semi-normal life, and the internet lost its hive mind over America’s cream cheese shortage.Social trends like those can tell us a lot about the economy we’re living in. To wrap up 2021, we ran down what some of the big cultural moments and movements taught us about the labor market, economic growth and the outlook for 2022.The Everything ShortageSadly, it wasn’t just the schmear that ran out this year. Many, many things came up short in 2021. For a while, people tried to blame the fact that they couldn’t get hold of a couch or a used car on a ship stuck in the Suez Canal, but society eventually came around to the reality that we’ve all been buying so much stuff that we have collectively broken the supply chain.Government stimulus checks and savings amassed over long months at home have been fueling strong consumer spending, and the virus has shifted spending patterns away from services like restaurant meals and plane tickets and toward goods. Container ships, ports and factories couldn’t keep up with the unusual boom, especially as new virus waves spurred occasional shutdowns.Product shortages have raised prices, helping to push inflation up to the fastest pace in nearly 40 years. The big question is whether high inflation will continue in 2022. As the Omicron variant threatens to throw more kinks into global supply lines, economic policymakers worry that it will persist.An Anti-Work Era?About 1.5 million “idlers” and counting have joined a community on the site Reddit dedicated to “those who want to end work, are curious about ending work, want to get the most out of a work-free life.” If you were looking for a perfect expression of pandemic populist angst, that might be it: It’s replete with stories of bad bosses, workday abuses and both planned and spontaneous quits.Redditors weren’t alone in getting excited about leaving jobs this year. Americans quit their jobs at record rates, in what was labeled “The Great Resignation” or the “Big Quit.” Myriad essays and articles have tried to assess why people are throwing in the towel, but most agree that it has something to do with burnout after long months of exposure to public health risk or endless online hours during the pandemic.Some have suggested that a collective life-or-death experience has caused people to reassess their options, while others have suggested that the same government-padded savings that are allowing people to spend so much are giving them the wherewithal to be pickier about where they work and how much they are paid.Burned-Out BoomersThis may also have been the year that “OK, Boomer” ceded the floor to “You OK, Boomer?”A recent Federal Reserve survey of business contacts found that several “noted that baby boomers were leaving jobs and selling businesses to retire early — a trend that was due (1957 marked the peak year for births among baby boomers; those babies turn 65 next year) but has accelerated because of pandemic burnout.”That shows up in the data. People over the age of 45 have been slower to return to the job market since the start of the pandemic. That group includes members of Generation X, which ranges in age from 41 to 56, and baby boomers, who are roughly 57 to 75. It’s not clear if the apparent rush toward early retirement is going to stick: People may go back once the health scare of the pandemic is behind us, or if stocks return to less buoyant valuations, reducing the value of retirement portfolios.What happens next with the middle-age-and-up work force will be pivotal to the future of the labor market. If older workers stay out, America’s labor force participation rate — and the pool of workers available to employers — may remain depressed compared with levels that prevailed before the pandemic. That will be bad news for employers, who are increasingly desperate to hire.Generational Warfare, Skinny Jean EditionDon’t shed all of your tears for the baby boomers, because millennials also had a tough time in 2021. They divided the year between reminding the internet that they are graying, keeping Botox boutiques in business, and feeling aghast as Generation Z, their successors, accused them of being old. A generation that made the poorly informed decision to recycle the low-rise trend also had the gall to claim that side parts make people look aged and skinny jeans are out.Whether their elders are ready for it or not, the reality is that Gen Z, the group born from 1997 to 2012, began to enter adulthood and the labor market in full force during the pandemic. It is a comparatively small generation, but its members could shake things up. They are fully digital natives and have different attitudes toward, and expectations of, work life from those of their older counterparts.If office workers ever actually meet their new colleagues, things could get interesting.Everyone Hates ‘Hard Pants’Speaking of the office, this year put the initials “R.T.O.” firmly into the professional lexicon. Return-to-office planning was repeatedly upended by rolling waves of infection, but that didn’t stop cries of outrage. Many professionals began to question the utility of high heels and slacks — known derisively as “hard pants” — as opposed to their far more beloved and couch-friendly “soft pant” alternative.Whether the future of work-wear will involve more elastic waistbands remains an open question, but it is increasingly clear that America is unlikely to return to many of its old workday habits. Surveys of workers suggest that many did not miss the office, and employers are increasingly turning to hybrid work models and location flexibility, in part to avoid fueling further resignations.Travel Remained DepressedBorders closed, and opened, and closed again or included restrictions as waves of coronavirus tore across the world map this year. The same uncertainties facing national governments kept many travelers at or near home — international travel remains sharply depressed. Global tourism remained 76 percent below prepandemic levels through the third quarter, based on data from the World Tourism Organization.Aside from Emily, it seems that relatively few of us are making it to Paris these days. That’s bad news for travel-dependent industries, and one of the reasons that spending patterns are struggling to shift back toward services and away from furniture, exercise equipment and toys. That has kept inflation high across much of the world.Q.R. Codes Are on the MenuEven when we did shift our consumption dollars back to experiences, those were often much changed by the pandemic.A case in point: Many restaurants have moved to Q.R. codes instead of physical menus. Some of this is for sanitation, but companies are also turning to small doses of automation as a way to cut down on labor as employees are scarce. That has the potential to improve productivity. (The data so far on whether it’s working are mixed.) If companies do become more efficient, it could lay the groundwork for sustainably higher wages: The server who is now juggling twice as many tables as diners order from their phones can take home a fatter paycheck without chipping away at the restaurant’s profits.But it remains to be seen whether workers will win out as companies streamline their operations to meet the moment. So far, corporate profits have been soaring to record highs, but wage gains are not quite keeping up with inflation. Things are changing fast, so how that story develops will be a trend to watch in 2022. More