Always Essential is a campaign of working people, activists, and organizations joining together to transform what’s possible for essential workers — especially those in low-wage sectors who are disproportionately Black and other workers of color. We are working in cities, counties, states, and at the federal level to put essential workers first and build the lasting change we want to see.



Monday, April 4th, 2022 

Union Victory Over Amazon A Watershed Moment in the Labor Movement

Hailed as a “watershed moment in the labor movement,” on Friday, Amazon workers in Staten Island won a resounding victory over Amazon and its anti-labor, union-busting tactics to form the first union at an Amazon facility in the U.S. In Bessemer, Alabama, the Amazon unionization vote remains “too close to call” in the do-over election ordered after the NLRB found that Amazon improperly interfered in last year’s tally. 

Chris Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, addressed the Amazon executives who tried to discredit him during his victory speech Friday, “They called us a bunch of thugs. They tried to spread racist rumors,” he said. “Tried to demonize our character, but it didn’t work. Today the people have spoken and the people wanted a union.

Asked what he would say to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Smalls said, “We wanna thank Jeff Bezos, cause while he was up in space we was signing people up.”

Erica Smiley, executive director of Jobs With Justice and co-founder of Always Essential, said "Amazon finally got what it deserved today after the trillion-dollar company ignored the demands for safer working conditions in 2020 from its workers exposed to Covid and retaliated against Chris Smalls and others who led a walkout. Despite Amazon spending millions running every dirty trick in their union-busting playbook to prevent employees from organizing and bargaining collectively, these courageous workers proved they could not and would not be silenced. 


“Workers, have won. Amazon has lost. The company should end all of its challenges in Bessemer and elsewhere and commit to negotiating in good faith with the unions workers have formed.


“Radicalized by their framing as ‘essential’ during the global COVID-19 pandemic and angered by the murder of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, many Amazon workers—particularly Black workers—took their piece of the Black Lives Matter movement and organized on the shop floor.”

Screen Shot 2022-04-02 at 2.55.11 PM.png
Screen Shot 2022-04-02 at 2.36.34 PM.png

César Chávez’s Life And Legacy Remain As Relevant As Ever

Untitled design.png

This past week, Erica Smiley, executive director of Jobs With Justice and a co-founder and lead organizer of Always Essential issued the following statement:

"Today, we honor César Chávez, a fearless champion for social justice and workers’ rights whose tireless activism improved the lives of countless farmworkers, immigrants, and their families. As an organization, we could not be prouder to carry forward alongside our partners the legacy César Chávez set forth to fight for social change and economic justice for working people every day. As a titan of the labor movement and human rights, his example inspires our shared fight today for safer, healthier working conditions for essential workers in the face of a pandemic, a deeply unequal economic crisis, and a national reckoning on racial and economic justice. 

“Throughout the pandemic, our nation's more than two million farmworkers risked their lives and that of their families to put food on tables across America. They and America’s other essential workers are the backbone of our economy and deserve fair wages, healthy working conditions, and greater worker protections.

“For us, César Chávez Day isn't just a history lesson. His life’s work remains our unfinished mission: to put the American Dream within reach for all. Dignity. Respect. Justice. ‘¡Sí se puede!’”

See below for a rundown of the latest efforts in the fight for improved health and safety standards, better pay, and working conditions for essential workers.


Worker-Led Win At Amazon Warehouse Could Provide New Labor Playbook

Screen Shot 2022-04-02 at 3.12.16 PM.png
Screen Shot 2022-04-02 at 11.23.02 PM.png

A Washington Post feature story focuses on how “the unionization of a Staten Island facility at one of the country’s biggest employers shows how workers are emerging from the pandemic with new tactics and energy.” 

The Staten Island victory and recent successes at six Starbucks coffee shops in Buffalo were each accomplished by worker-led unions independent of the labor movement’s legacy organizations. Recruitment campaigns were deeply personal, with workers attracting colleagues one by one and including discussions about civil rights and environmental justice, not just wages and working conditions, strategies that national leaders say could be key to the labor movement’s future.

“If you think of unions as just for a certain industry or sector from the ‘old economy,’ that’s not the case. It’s an outdated view of what unions are,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler said. “Unions are what you want them to be. The workers themselves define it, and I’m seeing all kinds of innovative examples of unions being used to negotiate their companies' carbon footprint, and workers in some of these new ‘emerging industries’ are facing the same working conditions and challenges around securing predictable schedules and decent pay and benefits as workers in the traditional economy.”

Laila Dalton, a 19-year-old shift supervisor, as well as a union organizer at a Starbucks in Phoenix, said it’s “eye-opening” to see an independent union take on a global corporation like Amazon and win.

“I think the service industry is starting to realize their worth,” Dalton said. “They’re starting to realize it’s not okay for people to be treated badly in the food industry. They’re so relied on, and they’re treated the worst. It’s really opening people’s eyes.”

Starbucks Union Wins At NYC's Roastery

Screen Shot 2022-04-02 at 4.04.33 PM.png

On April 1st, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery in NYC's Chelsea market voted to unionize, making history as the first flagship store to unionize with Starbucks Workers United and the tenth unionized Starbucks store in the U.S. The win comes the same week that former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, who has a long and successful history of union-busting at Starbucks, retakes the helm.

The NYC store is one of only three Roastery locations in the country. In close collaboration with Starbucks partners (employees), the Workers United NY/NJ Regional Joint Board will now represent nearly 100 partners who work at the store. 

"I'm proud of the culmination of our efforts to make our workplaces more democratic and equitable. Community is a value near and dear to my heart and I'm grateful and joyous to be in solidarity with my peers!" - Ley Kido, Starbucks partner of nine years.


"Winning this election means we have an equal voice to make the change we ALL want to see. I feel empowered, I feel seen, I feel union STRONG! - Ashley Carrigan, Starbucks partner of four years 

"Today, we at the Roastery showed the world what can be built when we stand together in solidarity as workers and humans who understand our value. I am eager to begin the bargaining process with Starbucks and help the company achieve the industry-leader status that it aspires to." - Sam LaGow, Starbucks partner of six years 

"Adapt, improvise, overcome." Conan Yim, Starbucks partner of two years.

Local 122 San Diego Encore Workers Win Union Contract

Screen Shot 2022-04-02 at 4.28.45 PM.png

After 20 months of struggle against Encore Global, San Diego audiovisual technician workers won their first union contract. On March 16, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 122 announced that the Encore workers are officially joining their union.

Encore workers frequently put on events for billionaires and politicians at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego, the biggest hotel on the West Coast, while many Encore workers struggle to put food on their own tables.

Union Workers Ratify Five-Year Contract with Kennecott Utah Copper

Screen Shot 2022-04-02 at 3.48.24 PM.png

Workers have ratified a new, five-year labor agreement with Kennecott Utah Copper Corporation, covering more than 1,300 hourly workers at the Rio Tinto subsidiary's mine in Salt Lake County. The new contract includes gains for workers that include lump-sum payments, wage increases in each year as well as other contract improvements, and it maintains and improves health and life insurance benefits.

USW District 12 Director Gaylan Prescott, who co-chaired the negotiations, said that workers stood together to demand the fair contract they have earned.

"Members of four different unions showed tremendous solidarity throughout the bargaining process," Prescott said. "Together, we sent management the unmistakable message that union workers would settle for nothing less than the opportunity to continue improving the standard of living for ourselves and our families."

New York Times Tech Workers Vote To Unionize

Screen Shot 2022-03-09 at 3.03.35 PM.png

Tech workers at the New York Times voted overwhelmingly in favor of unionizing with the NewsGuild Thursday night. The 600-member Times Tech Guild will be the largest union of tech workers with bargaining rights in the country, per the NewsGuild.

It becomes the third major union to form among NYT workers, in addition to its editorial workers' union and a union representing Wirecutter, The Times' consumer reviews website.

"With this election result, the hundreds of us who work on New York Times websites and apps will finally have a real seat at the table and a meaningful say in our pay, benefits, and working conditions," said the Times Tech Guild Organizing Committee.

Do-Over Union Election At Amazon's Bessemer Warehouse Is Too Close To Call

Screen Shot 2022-04-02 at 3.03.47 PM.png

In Bessemer, Alabama, the Amazon unionization vote remains “too close to call” in the do-over election ordered after the NLRB found that Amazon improperly interfered in last year’s tally. From millions spent on high-priced consultants and gross union-busting tactics to holding more than 20 mandatory anti-union meetings with employees daily, similar to last year’s election, Amazon pulled out all the stops to deny workers’ freedom to form unions. Due to hundreds of contested ballots and investigations into alleged unfair labor practices by Amazon during the final weeks of voting, the Bessemer election results this time around may not be known for several weeks.

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler on the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union-UFCW (RWDSU-UFCW) election at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, said, “Over the past several months, the heroic Amazon workers in Bessemer have voted by mail on whether to form a union with RWDSU-UFCW. Any employer, corporation, or billionaire who tries to intimidate or harass employees to interfere with the democratic voting process is breaking the law, end of story. Amazon workers have a legal right to a truly free and fair union election. They are asking for what should be the standard for every American worker: safe working conditions, fair wages, and dignity and respect on the job. 

“Once every vote is counted, no matter the outcome, we know the bravery shown by these workers has made an impact for generations to come. Because, unlike Amazon, we don’t measure success by an algorithm that keeps people overworked and undervalued. Victory in the labor movement is when workers come together to make change despite all obstacles. This is only the beginning.” 

It's worth noting as we wrap up Women's History Month, the extraordinary effort of Black workers in Bessemer, Alabama, most of whom are Black women.

Jennifer Bates, a Black woman, mother, grandmother, and Amazon worker, in Bessemer spearheaded the union efforts, serving as the face of the BHM1's workers, and providing testimony in the United States Senate. She shared that she took the job at Amazon and, “By the third day I was hurting, and I looked around and realized it wasn’t just me. I told my sister, who also worked there at the time, and she just told me it only gets worse.”

Screen Shot 2022-04-02 at 4.49.00 PM.png

Southern California Grocery Workers Prepare For A Strike: ‘We’ve Walked Through Hell’

Screen Shot 2022-03-24 at 1.12.03 PM.png

Grocery workers across Southern California voted to authorize a strike against Ralphs, Albertsons, Vons, and Pavilions to pressure the companies to raise wages.

A three-year contract between the United Food and Commercial Workers and Kroger, the parent company of Ralphs, and Albertsons, which owns Vons and Pavilions, expired March 6. "We've walked through hell and can't stop now."

Intense negotiations had occurred since January, "proceeding at a regular rhythm," said John Grant, president of UFCW Local 770. "Then, two weeks ago, it came to a screeching halt. I believe the companies wanted to see if workers are going to stand up and ask for the contract they deserve. Grocery workers have suffered during the pandemic, he said. “I have never seen such militancy. It’s like we’ve walked through hell and can’t stop now.”

Erlene Molina, a Ralphs employee, told company negotiators: “We saw how people were acting like the world was ending, but we could not stay home. We knew that we had an obligation to our community, so we showed up every day.”

In March, the union filed complaints of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board accusing the companies of illegal intimidation, including videotaping of workers at rallies and when they presented petitions to managers. The companies gave employees a one-time $100 bonus, which the union called a “bribe” to influence the negotiations, and they failed to provide necessary information for negotiations, according to the filings with the NLRB.

Thousands Of Sacramento Teachers Strike As Minneapolis Walkout Continues

Screen Shot 2022-03-24 at 1.26.57 PM.png

Thousands of teachers and other school workers in Sacramento walked off the job on March 23rd. The California capital became the second big U.S. school district in March to see a work stoppage over pay and staffing shortages as a teachers' strike in Minneapolis entered its third week.

The disputes in Sacramento and Minneapolis, where teachers walked out on March 8th, come as school districts across the country deal with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and limited resources.

"These labor actions are part of a trend across the country that started with the pandemic, said Steve Smith, spokesman for the California Labor Federation, which includes SEIU Local 1021. "Workers are really fed up with poor treatment, generally few safety protections, low pay," Smith added that many of these are essential workers who stepped up to keep our economy going in the roughest of possible times.

More than 4,500 educators and support staff are still on strike in Minneapolis, where negotiations often have been acrimonious. The talks have yielded incremental progress on the big issues of pay, class sizes, and better mental health supports for the district's 29,000 students, but no breakthroughs.

‘Food Companies Didn’t Get the Memo’—Steven Greenhouse on the Unionization Wave

Screen Shot 2022-03-24 at 1.44.55 PM.png

Veteran journalist Steven Greenhouse is one of the most influential labor reporters in the U.S. Recently named a Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation, Greenhouse was a reporter for The New York Times for 31 years and spent the last 19 years covering labor and the workplace. He has covered myriad topics, including poverty among the nation’s farmworkers, the Fight for $15, locked-in workers at Walmart, and the push to roll back public employees’ bargaining rights.

"The nation hailed the importance of essential workers during the pandemic: We need cashiers at supermarkets, we need food delivery workers . . . because that holds our nation together, it feeds us. Many of these workers were long overlooked and undervalued, and they’re finally getting the recognition that they deserve. And yet, while they were hailed as heroes, a lot of employers didn’t treat them very well. So when it came to contract time, [employers] acted as if it was business as usual.

"When it comes to labor negotiations, with inflation rising, companies are just offering raises of 2 to 4 percent. And workers are saying, ‘What the hell? Corporate profits are up, at Deere, Kellogg’s, and Nabisco, and modest raises hardly keep up with inflation. We’re supposed to be heroes, we busted our humps. And now, you’re not showing the appreciation that we deserve.”

It’s Farmworker Awareness Week. Here’s What Those Who Feed Us Deserve.

Screen Shot 2022-04-02 at 3.26.17 PM.png

In a piece to commemorate Farmworker Awareness Week for, Ennedith Lopez writes that "protecting farmworkers on the job also means addressing the issues that make them so vulnerable in the first place. This Farmworker Awareness Week, it’s critical that we continue to recognize the vital role farmworkers play to sustain our country’s entire food system, their proud history of union mobilizing and organizing, and the need to respect their humanity."

There are between 2.5 and 3 million agricultural workers in the United States. Migrant farmworkers account for an estimated 75 percent of these, and 50 percent of migrant farmworkers are undocumented. Many live in this country at risk of deportation, in substandard housing conditions, and in extreme poverty.

The farmworkers who feed us are on the frontlines of climate change, poverty, and our broken immigration system. They shouldn’t be treated as sacrificial or replaceable—especially when they’re nothing short of essential. We must support their causes and demand justice.


Facebook  Twitter