Why are we seeing more unions forming in Kentuckiana?

According to the National Labor Relations Board, petitions filed by union representation increased by 56% in the 2021-22 financial year.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The numbers and eye test suggest the same trend: There’s an increase in the number of unions forming in the retail industry in the United States and Kentuckiana.

“That’s at least double the number of elections won by unions in the first half of 2022, compared to the first half of 2021,” said Ariana Levinson, a law professor at the University of Louisville.

According to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), petitions filed by union representation increased 56% in the 2021-22 fiscal year. He also reports that unfair labor practice charges have increased by almost 15%.

Levinson said the Louisville metro area and southern Indiana were no exception in a renewed movement that gained momentum thanks to the pandemic.

“People model what they do on what others they know have done,” she said. “With all the remote work going on, workers are really able to see that they could have more options in their workplace.

The growing number of examples in the region is evident, as well as the importance of younger generations leading the charge.

Two different Starbucks locations in the WHAS11 viewing area — one on Factory Lane in eastern Jefferson County and the other on Veterans Parkway in Clarksville, Indiana — have voted to unionize in recent months. A third store is awaiting verification of the final result.

Outside of Starbucks, baristas at more than a dozen Heine Brothers coffee shops organized and lobbied for an election through the NLRB.

Sunergos Coffee employees announced their organizing efforts in late August. The Half Price Books store in Hurstbourne Parkway stood for election the same month.

“We had labor shortages and product shortages — it was a time when they had a bit more clout, so we see them taking advantage of that,” Levinson said.

On Monday, workers at Factory Lane Starbucks invited people inside to “sip” in solidarity with those leading the union effort.

Fern Potter, shift manager and union organizer, said there were no signs or chants. Instead, they focused on simple, calm discussions about how to show their support.

“Put your name for the order as ‘solidarity’ or ‘strong union’, or anything along those lines,” Potter said. “Send the message to management and our baristas that there are people in this community who are willing to support them and stand by them.”

Now comes the question: will this rise last, and for how long?

Levinson thought that would depend on several factors, including how new contract negotiations unfold, the midterm elections and subsequent legislation passed, as well as the state of the economy.

“When the next recession hits, workers will be much more reluctant to organize,” she said.

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