Union membership increases amid COVID-19

Labor unions increase in popularity

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Union membership is looking up during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. 17 to 33 million employees, mostly hospitality workers, are still not able to go back to work. Many are looking for stability.

Union membership may be able to provide some of that.

“We’re seeing organizing in various sectors and various industries because they’re been pushed to the wall,” said Paul Stapleton-Smith, a unions organizer for the Pima Area Labor Federation, PALF. “They need different outcomes.”

There are signs of how the coronavirus may affect unions membership locally, even in a right-to-work state.

The nurses at St. Mary’s Hospital unionized for the first time ever in response to safety concerns and the inability to secure personal protective equipment.

Faculty and staff at the University of Arizona organized and voted to unionize when the school administration imposed pay cuts and furlough’s without staff input.

“For the first time in history, we have wall to wall union,” said Miranda Schubert, an advisor at the university. “So now we’re the local campus workers of America and we’re just getting started.”

How quickly they organized and became a bargaining unit was enough to get union organizers attention.

“We’re just gaining momentum, it’s getting bigger and bigger,” Schubert said. “”We’ve had close to 200 people join in just the past week.”

The biggest increase is among the essential workers, those who can’t work from home but must show up to work everyday.

It’s estimated somewhere between 17 and 33 million essential workers have lost their jobs.

Unions are providing services for the unemployed such as food and mortgage assistance.

“We’re trying to keep people healthy during this economic hardship,” said Trish Muir, of Teamsters 104 and chair of PALF. “It’s a big issue.”

And the issue is solved one person at a time.

“Empowering people is really the secret for all of us to have a successful outcome during this pandemic,” Stapleton-Smith said.

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