Four raised fists with Apple, Amazon, Etsy and Starbucks logos.
Illustration: Getty Images Plus; Protocol

Big Tech’s big uprising

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Good morning! Tech companies have been largely immune to unionization efforts in the last few decades, but recent worker-led movements within Amazon and Apple prove that may no longer be the case. What’s next? Tech leaders can look to Starbucks for clues. I’m Anna Kramer and this weekend I dyed eggs with onion skins. It was the most fun I’ve had in weeks.

Starbucks is unionizing. Big Tech should take heed.

The wave of unionization sweeping Starbucks stores across the country — more than 20 so far, with potentially hundreds more in process — might not seem all that pressing to tech execs, but company leaders should be paying extremely close attention. Those Starbucks unions are proving to be powerful inspiration for the workforces that power tech companies, from Amazon warehouse workers to Apple store retail employees, and even the makers and sellers on Etsy.

Apple retail workers are officially trying to form a union, a first for the company, in a move that takes a page from the Starbucks union playbook. A group of employees at the Grand Central Apple store in Manhattan, calling themselves the Fruit Stand Workers United, on Monday announced plans to organize a legally recognized union.

  • The FSWU has affiliated itself with the national group that is leading the Starbucks union movement. The national Workers United will represent FSWU as it tries to collect enough signatures to trigger a formal union election with the National Labor Relations Board; they need 30% of the store’s employees to sign on before crossing that legal threshold.
  • Workers United has had a startling success rate at Starbucks by unionizing one retail location at a time, a strategy it appears likely to replicate with Apple.
  • The FSWU cited both the pandemic and increasing prices due to inflation as extraordinary circumstances making work especially difficult at the Grand Central location. The union wants to negotiate a $30/hr minimum wage if it wins the right to collectively bargain with Apple.
  • For nearly a year, Apple store employees have been vocal about experiences with often difficult and sometimes even dangerous working conditions, sharing stories through a group calling itself #AppleToo.
  • Apple told Protocol that it values its retail team members and offers strong compensation and benefits, but its spokesperson would not comment specifically on the union movement.

Etsy sellers have been on strike for the last week, spurred by the Starbucks union success. Tens of thousands of Etsy sellers signed a petition committing to close their online shops from April 11-18 in protest of Etsy’s decision to raise its transaction cut from 5% to 6.5%, a 30% increase and the first since July 2018, before the pandemic began.

  • The Etsy sellers involved in organizing the strike sent a list of demands to Etsy CEO Josh Silverman, including the removal of the fee increase, when the strike began. The sellers said Monday that Silverman and Etsy never replied to their letter and have now asked participants to send the same letter via snail mail as a way of doubling down on the demands. Etsy did not respond to Protocol’s request for comment.
  • One of the leaders of the strike, seller Kristi Cassidy, told CNBC that the group of striking sellers was inspired by the union success at Starbucks and now is considering some form of unionization of its own. “We haven’t been sure what to call it,” she said. “Is it union? Is it handmade slash vintage solidarity?”
  • Etsy justified the fee increase as necessary for marketing tools and to maintain seller growth “momentum.” The company experienced an explosion in customer interest at the beginning of the pandemic and has managed to maintain most of that growth over the last two years, continuing to beat revenue expectations for all four quarters last year.

And Amazon warehouse workers won a surprising union election victory. The JFK8 Staten Island warehouse voted earlier this month to form the company’s first official union, and some of the workers who voted for the union there cited the Starbucks success as inspiration. Now a second group of Amazon workers in another Staten Island facility is gearing up for a union election vote that will begin next week, and union organizers in New Jersey just got the green light to hold an election. Amazon is planning to challenge the first union victory and has reportedly stepped up efforts to chill union support in the second facility.

Whether the union momentum continues at Amazon’s other facilities — and elsewhere for tech workers like those at Apple’s retail stores — may hinge in part on the results of this second election next week, and the upcoming union votes at Starbucks stores across the country. It’s the first time in decades that there are more than enough movements at different private sector companies to actually affect the outcomes for each other, and Big Tech should pay close attention to the outcomes of these efforts.

Anna Kramer (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM RINGCENTRAL

The speed at which security has been built up over the last 12 months has been a derivative benefit of what we’ve seen during the pandemic. Privacy, compliance and security are three legs of the same stool. What we’re seeing increasingly is that intersection continuing to happen. RingCentral has invested in all those elements.

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People are talking

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Gideon Yu, former CFO of YouTube and Facebook, said shareholders should decide whether Twitter takes Elon Musk’s offer or not:

  • “The board can and should either negotiate a deal with Elon, present a plan that is superior to his offer — or get out of the way.”

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Internet slang you never needed

OGIM, AMIRITE? In case you’re not up with the internet slang, that means “Oh god, it’s Monday. Am I right?” (Yes, yes, we know it's Tuesday, WE.) The FBI compiled 83 pages of internet slang for some reason, which thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request is now available for everyone to laugh at. If you don’t want to comb through the whole document, we’ve selected a few favorites:

  • SWK means “Star Wars Kid.” Duh.
  • WE means “Whatever.” WEVA or WEVER are also accepted.
  • TYFYT means “Thank You For Your Time.” Try that as an email signature.
  • U2B means “YouTube.” Way simpler to say that way.
  • YKWIS means “You Know What I’m Saying?” You know?

A MESSAGE FROM RINGCENTRAL

At RingCentral, we’re focused on making hybrid work simpler for organizations so they can best set up, run and manage their business. We’re asking ourselves what's the benefit that we can derive, or that we can enable, that is better than the best-in-class in the industry?

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Thoughts, questions, tips? Send them to sourcecode@protocol.com, or our tips line, tips@protocol.com. Enjoy your day, see you tomorrow.

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