Labor leaders from Amazon, Starbucks, REI and Apple speak at the HuffPost Labor Panel

Workers leading some of today’s most notable labor campaigns gathered at HuffPost’s New York office on Wednesday to share their stories.

The panel, “A New Labor Movement,” featured workers from Amazon, Starbucks, REI and Apple. All of these companies have seen some of their workforce unionize for the very first time in recent months, part of a pronounced increase in unionization in the United States over the past year.

Panelists explained why they decided to organize their workplaces and how they achieved this, given that their employers had all campaigned against their efforts and urged workers to vote against unionization.

Angelika Maldonado, vice president of the Amazon Labor Union, was a key organizer at the retailer’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, the first and so far only Amazon facility in the United States to train a syndicate. Maldonado discussed the gigantic enterprise to try to organize a factory of 8,000 employees while the company spent millions of dollars on anti-union consultants who held meetings with warehouse workers.

Maldonado, who works as a packer at Amazon, said she and her colleagues openly challenged those consultants.

“I’m a very bubbly, very giving person,” she said. “However, once I feel defensive, I become very combative… Not only myself, but other ALU organizers were talking and spoiling these meetings. We had evidence and facts for our colleagues. We were defending our colleagues.”

Maldonado’s experiences resonated with CJ Toothman, a worker and organizer at Starbucks in Brooklyn.

The Toothman store is one of nearly 200 Starbucks locations that have unionized with Workers United since December in a remarkable burst of unionization at the previously unorganized coffee chain. Federal labor officials have accused the company of breaking the law firing union organizers and closing some stores where union support is high, though Starbucks maintains the firings and closures were legitimate and not retaliatory.

Left to right: Amazon worker Angelika Maldonado, Starbucks worker CJ Toothman and REI worker Emma Kate Harris speaking at ‘A New Labor Movement’.

Alexander C. Kaufman for the HuffPost

“Last week I had to have a meeting with 12 different managers at the same time,” Toothman said. “There were so many managers that they couldn’t get into the office and were literally standing in the doorway. I think they are definitely trying to use scare tactics against any store that is unionizing or any store that wants to unionize.

Emma Kate Harris was one of the workers who formed the first union at REI, the company’s store in New York’s SoHo neighborhood. Workers there endorsed unionization in a landslide in March, voting 88 to 14 in favor of joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. REI ran the campaign despite its progressive image as an employer. Harris explained why the company’s case against a union — including a widely mocked podcast produced by the company — has fallen so low.

“The more they try to show that they’re a progressive company, the more they show that their activism is really performative,” Harris said. “With all these union busters…they just bring more evidence of their disconnect and really highlight the fact that they don’t really know what’s going on with us.”

An Apple Store in Towson, Maryland has become the tech giant first American site to unionize last month. Billy Jarboe, a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, was one of the workers leading the effort. Jarboe said the pandemic has made him and his colleagues realize they don’t have much say in workplace policies that affect them.

“The pandemic… what it really revealed for me personally and for many of us is how many decisions have been made in succession without our consideration or inclusion,” he said. “Our corporate message was ‘we are progressive, you already have a seat at the table.’ Well, no, we don’t.

The full panel video can be viewed above.

Apple Store employee Billy Jarboe speaks to the panel.
Apple Store employee Billy Jarboe speaks to the panel.

Alexander C. Kaufman for the HuffPost

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