point out flaws — understaffing, insufficient training, low seniority pay, all of which they want to improve — they embrace Starbucks and its distinctive culture.

They talk up their sense of camaraderie and community — many count regular customers among their friends — and delight in their coffee expertise. On mornings when Ms. Brisack’s store isn’t busy, employees often hold tastings.

A Starbucks spokesman said that Mr. Schultz believes employees don’t need a union if they have faith in him and his motives, and the company has said that seniority-based pay increases will take effect this summer.

onetime auto plant. The National Labor Relations Board was counting ballots for an election at a Starbucks in Mesa, Ariz. — the first real test of whether the campaign was taking root nationally, and not just in a union stronghold like New York. The room was tense as the first results trickled in.

“Can you feel my heart beating?” Ms. Moore asked her colleagues.

win in a rout — the final count was 25 to 3. Everyone turned slightly punchy, as if they had all suddenly entered a dream world where unions were far more popular than they had ever imagined. One of the lawyers let out an expletive before musing, “Whoever organized down there …”

union campaign he was involved with at a nearby Nissan plant. It did not go well. The union accused the company of running a racially divisive campaign, and Ms. Brisack was disillusioned by the loss.

“Nissan never paid a consequence for what it did,” she said. (In response to charges of “scare tactics,” the company said at the time that it had sought to provide information to workers and clear up misperceptions.)

Mr. Dolan noticed that she was becoming jaded about mainstream politics. “There were times between her sophomore and junior year when I’d steer her toward something and she’d say, ‘Oh, they’re way too conservative.’ I’d send her a New York Times article and she’d say, ‘Neoliberalism is dead.’”

In England, where she arrived during the fall of 2019 at age 22, Ms. Brisack was a regular at a “solidarity” film club that screened movies about labor struggles worldwide, and wore a sweatshirt that featured a head shot of Karl Marx. She liberally reinterpreted the term “black tie” at an annual Rhodes dinner, wearing a black dress-coat over a black antifa T-shirt.

climate technology start-up, lamented that workers had too little leverage. “Labor unions may be the most effective way of implementing change going forward for a lot of people, including myself,” he told me. “I might find myself in labor organizing work.”

This is not what talking to Rhodes scholars used to sound like. At least not in my experience.

I was a Rhodes scholar in 1998, when centrist politicians like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were ascendant, and before “neoliberalism” became such a dirty word. Though we were dimly aware of a time, decades earlier, when radicalism and pro-labor views were more common among American elites — and when, not coincidentally, the U.S. labor movement was much more powerful — those views were far less in evidence by the time I got to Oxford.

Some of my classmates were interested in issues like race and poverty, as they reminded me in interviews for this article. A few had nuanced views of labor — they had worked a blue-collar job, or had parents who belonged to a union, or had studied their Marx. Still, most of my classmates would have regarded people who talked at length about unions and class the way they would have regarded religious fundamentalists: probably earnest but slightly preachy, and clearly stuck in the past.

Kris Abrams, one of the few U.S. Rhodes Scholars in our cohort who thought a lot about the working class and labor organizing, told me recently that she felt isolated at Oxford, at least among other Americans. “Honestly, I didn’t feel like there was much room for discussion,” Ms. Abrams said.

typically minor and long in coming.

has issued complaints finding merit in such accusations. Yet the union continues to win elections — over 80 percent of the more than 175 votes in which the board has declared a winner. (Starbucks denies that it has broken the law, and a federal judge recently rejected a request to reinstate pro-union workers whom the labor board said Starbucks had forced out illegally.)

Twitter was: “We appreciate TIME magazine’s coverage of our union campaign. TIME should make sure they’re giving the same union rights and protections that we’re fighting for to the amazing journalists, photographers, and staff who make this coverage possible!”

The tweet reminded me of a story that Mr. Dolan, her scholarship adviser, had told about a reception that the University of Mississippi held in her honor in 2018. Ms. Brisack had just won a Truman scholarship, another prestigious award. She took the opportunity to urge the university’s chancellor to remove a Confederate monument from campus. The chancellor looked pained, according to several attendees.

“My boss was like, ‘Wow, you couldn’t have talked her out of doing that?’” Mr. Dolan said. “I was like, ‘That’s what made her win. If she wasn’t that person, you all wouldn’t have a Truman now.’”

(Mr. Dolan’s boss at the time did not recall this conversation, and the former chancellor did not recall any drama at the event.)

The challenge for Ms. Brisack and her colleagues is that while younger people, even younger elites, are increasingly pro-union, the shift has not yet reached many of the country’s most powerful leaders. Or, more to the point, the shift has not yet reached Mr. Schultz, the 68-year-old now in his third tour as Starbucks’s chief executive.

She recently spoke at an Aspen Institute panel on workers’ rights. She has even mused about using her Rhodes connections to make a personal appeal to Mr. Schultz, something that Mr. Bensinger has pooh-poohed but that other organizers believe she just may pull off.

“Richard has been making fun of me for thinking of asking one of the Rhodes people to broker a meeting with Howard Schultz,” Ms. Brisack said in February.

“I’m sure if you met Howard Schultz, he’d be like, ‘She’s so nice,’” responded Ms. Moore, her co-worker. “He’d be like, ‘I get it. I would want to be in a union with you, too.’”

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After Trumka’s Death, A.F.L.-C.I.O. Faces a Crossroads

Richard Trumka’s 12 years as A.F.L.-C.I.O. president coincided with the continued decline of organized labor but also moments of opportunity, like the election of a devoutly pro-labor U.S. president. With Mr. Trumka’s death last week, the federation faces a fundamental question: What is the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s purpose?

For years, top union officials and senior staff members have split into two broad camps on this question. On one side are those who argue that the A.F.L.-C.I.O., which has about 12 million members, should play a supporting role for its constituent unions — that it should help build a consensus around policy and political priorities, lobby for them in Washington, provide research and communications support, and identify the best ways to organize and bargain.

On the other side of the debate are those who contend that the federation should play a leading role in building the labor movement — by investing resources in organizing more workers; by gaining a foothold in new sectors of the economy; by funding nontraditional worker organizations, like those representing undocumented workers; and by forging deeper alliances with other progressive groups, like those promoting civil rights causes.

As president, Mr. Trumka identified more with the first approach, which several current and former union officials said had merit, particularly in light of his close ties to President Biden. Liz Shuler, who has served as acting president since Mr. Trumka’s death and hopes to succeed him, is said to have a similar orientation.

documents obtained by the website Splinter.

Ms. Shuler said in an interview on Friday that the department’s budget did not reflect other resources that go toward organizing, like the millions of dollars that the A.F.L.-C.I.O. sends to state labor federations and local labor councils, which can play an important role in organizing campaigns.

Although the rate of union membership fell by about 1.5 percentage points during Mr. Trumka’s tenure to under 11 percent, his influence in Washington helped lead to several accomplishments. Among them were a more worker-friendly revision of the North American Free Trade Agreement, tens of billions of dollars in federal aid to stabilize union pension plans and a job-creating infrastructure bill now moving through Congress.

sent hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to state and local governments, which public sector unions, increasingly the face of the labor movement, considered a lifeline.

But the cornerstone of Mr. Trumka’s plan to revive labor was a bill still awaiting enactment: the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act. The legislation would make unionizing easier by forbidding employers from requiring workers to attend anti-union meetings and would create financial penalties for employers that flout labor law. The federation invested heavily in helping to elect public officials who could help pass the measure.

During an interview with The New York Times in March, Mr. Trumka characterized the PRO Act as, in effect, labor’s last best hope. Because of growing inequality, our economy is on a trajectory to implosion,” he said. “We have to have a way for workers to have more power and employers to have less. And the best way do that is to have the PRO Act.”

Ms. Shuler echoed that point, arguing that labor will be primed for a resurgence if the measure becomes law. “We have everything in alignment,” she said. “The only thing left is the PRO Act to unleash what I would say is the potential for unprecedented organizing.”

But so far, placing most of labor’s hopes on a piece of legislation strongly opposed by Republicans and the business community has proved to be a dubious bet. While the House passed the bill in March and Mr. Biden strongly supports it, the odds are long in a divided Senate.

When asked whether the A.F.L.-C.I.O. could support Mr. Biden’s multitrillion-dollar jobs plan if it came to a vote with no prospect of passing the PRO Act as well, Mr. Trumka refused to entertain the possibility that he would have to make such a decision.

video game industry and other technology sectors.

Such funding can help support workers who want to help organize colleagues in their spare time, as well as a small cadre of professionals to assist them. “You have 100 people who you pay $25,000 per year, and 15 people full time, and the people can build something where they live,” Mr. Cohen said.

Stewart Acuff, the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s organizing director from 2002 to 2008 and then a special assistant to its president, said the federation’s role in organizing should include more than just directly funding those efforts. He said it was essential to make adding members a higher priority for all of organized labor, as he sought to do under Mr. Trumka’s predecessor.

“We were challenging every level of the labor movement to spend 30 percent of their resources on growth,” said Mr. Acuff, who has criticized the direction of the federation under Mr. Trumka. “That didn’t just mean organizers. It meant using access to every point of leverage,” like pressuring companies to be more accepting of unions.

Mr. Acuff also said that the A.F.L.-C.I.O. must be more willing to place long bets on organizing workers that may not pay off with more members in the short term, but that help build power and leverage for workers.

succeeded in many ways even though it has produced few if any new union members. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. has supported the Fight for $15 but not provided direct financial backing.

Mr. Cohen and Mr. Acuff both cited the importance of building long-term alliances with outside groups — like those championing civil rights or immigrant rights or environmental causes — which can increase labor’s power to demand, say, that an employer stand down during a union campaign.

speech he made in Ferguson, Mo., after a young Black man, Michael Brown, was shot to death by a police officer there in 2014.

But Mr. Trumka faced a backlash on this front from more conservative unions, who believed the proper role of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. was to focus on economic issues affecting members rather than questions like civil rights.

“There were some unions — not just the building trades — who felt like that work was not what we should be focusing on,” Carmen Berkley, a former director of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s Civil, Human and Women’s Rights Department, said in an interview last year.

argued for diverting much of the tens of millions of dollars the labor movement spends on political activities to help more workers unionize.

But Ms. Shuler insists that deciding between investing in organizing and the federation’s other priorities is a false choice.

“I don’t think that they are mutually exclusive,” she said. “The way modern organizations work, you no longer have heavy institutional budgets that are full of line items. We organize around action. We identify a target where there’s heat.” Then, she said, the organizations raise money and get things done.

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U.S. Asks Mexico to Investigate Labor Issues at G.M. Facility

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced on Wednesday that it was asking Mexico to review whether labor violations had occurred at a General Motors facility in the country, a significant step using a new labor enforcement tool in the revised North American trade deal.

The administration is seeking the review under the novel “rapid response” mechanism in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement and took effect last summer. Under the mechanism, penalties can be brought against a specific factory for violating workers’ rights of free association and collective bargaining.

The administration “received information appearing to indicate serious violations” of workers’ rights at the G.M. facility, in Silao in the central state of Guanajuato, in connection with a recent vote on their collective-bargaining agreement, the Office of the United States Trade Representative said.

The vote was stopped last month amid accusations that the union at the facility had tampered with it, according to news reports. Mexico’s Labor Ministry said on Tuesday that it had found “serious irregularities” in the vote and ordered that it be held again within 30 days.

filed a complaint under the rapid response mechanism in which they alleged labor violations at the Tridonex auto parts plants in the Mexican city of Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas.

The Biden administration will review that complaint, an official in the trade representative’s office said. It could then ask Mexico to conduct a review of that matter akin to the one it is seeking of the G.M. facility.

Oscar Lopez contributed reporting from Mexico City.

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Complaint Accuses Mexican Factories of Labor Abuses, Testing New Trade Pact

WASHINGTON — The A.F.L.-C.I.O. and other groups plan on Monday to file a complaint with the Biden administration over claims of labor violations at a group of auto parts factories in Mexico, a move that will pose an early test of the new North American trade deal and its labor protections.

The complaint focuses on the Tridonex auto parts factories in the city of Matamoros, just across the border from Brownsville, Texas. The A.F.L.-C.I.O. said workers there have been harassed and fired over their efforts to organize with an independent union, SNITIS, in place of a company-controlled union. Susana Prieto Terrazas, a Mexican labor lawyer and SNITIS leader, was arrested and jailed last year in an episode that received significant attention.

The trade deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, was negotiated by the Trump administration to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement and took effect last summer. While it was negotiated by a Republican administration, the deal had significant input from congressional Democrats, who controlled the House and who insisted on tougher labor and environmental standards in order to vote in favor of the pact, which needed approval from Congress.

The trade pact required Mexico to make sweeping changes to its labor system, where sham collective bargaining agreements known as protection contracts, which are imposed without the involvement of employees and lock in low wages, have been prevalent.

released in December by an independent board created by the United States to monitor the labor changes said that Mexico had made progress but that significant obstacles remained. The report noted that the protection contract system was still in place, and that most unionized workers still could not elect their leaders in a democratic manner.

Ben Davis, the director of international affairs for the United Steelworkers and the board’s chair, said the complaint to be filed on Monday “has all the elements of the structural problem that we face with worker rights in Mexico.” The rapid response mechanism, he said, is a way to hold companies accountable.

“This is the first time that we’ve had anything like this in a trade agreement,” he said, “and so we think it’s pretty important for it to be used, to be used effectively and hopefully to be something that we can apply in other places.”

It remains to be seen how the Biden administration will respond to the complaint. An administration official said the administration would “carefully review” rapid response mechanism complaints.

The United States trade representative, Katherine Tai, previously served as the chief trade counsel for the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. In that post, she played a key role in negotiations between House Democrats and the Trump administration over revisions to the trade agreement.

Ms. Tai has said that enforcing the agreement is a priority, and the first meeting of the commission that oversees the pact — consisting of Ms. Tai and her counterparts from Canada and Mexico — is set to take place next week, according to a spokeswoman for the Mexican Embassy in Washington.

At a Senate hearing last month, Ms. Tai said there were “a number of concerns that we have with Mexico’s performance of its commitments under U.S.M.C.A.,” without offering specifics.

“We did our very best to put in the most effective tools for enforcement that we know how,” she said at another point in the hearing. “And they may not be perfect, but we’re not going to know how effective they’re going to be if we don’t use them.”

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Biden Forms Task Force to Explore Ways to Help Labor

President Biden signed an executive order on Monday creating a White House task force to promote labor organizing, an attempt to use the power of the federal government to reverse a decades-long decline in union membership.

The task force, to be led by Vice President Kamala Harris and populated by cabinet officials and top White House advisers, will issue recommendations on how the government can use existing authority to help workers join labor unions and bargain collectively. It will also recommend new policies aimed at achieving these goals.

The administration noted that the National Labor Relations Act, the 1935 law governing federal labor rights, explicitly sought to encourage collective bargaining, but that the law had never been fully carried out in this regard. “No previous administration has taken a comprehensive approach to determining how the executive branch can advance worker organizing and collective bargaining,” a White House statement declared.

Unions have lobbied for the passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act, which would prohibit employers from holding mandatory anti-union meetings and impose financial penalties for violating workers’ labor rights. (Workers can currently receive only so-called make-whole remedies, like back pay.) The House passed the measure in March and Mr. Biden supports the legislation, but it faces long odds in the Senate.

signed a handful of executive orders that sought to rein in union protections and bargaining rights for federal employees. The unions challenged the orders in court, and Mr. Biden revoked them shortly after taking office.

It is not entirely clear what kind of support the federal government could provide to workers seeking to organize short of changing the law, though some labor experts have argued that Mr. Biden and his appointees could use administrative action to allow workers to bargain on an industrywide basis, known as sectoral bargaining. That would make it less necessary to win union elections work site by work site, as is often the case today.

Seth Harris, a White House labor adviser, said the task force would explore the administration’s ability to increase unionization through federal procurement law, which requires the president to promote efficiency in government contracts.

“The simple fact of the matter is having a unionized work force means they are going to be paid more, they are more likely to be more productive, more likely to stay for a long time,” Mr. Harris said. “You’ll have more skilled, more experienced workers working on government procurement. You don’t have the same labor strife.”

labor leaders regarded Mr. Biden as the most pro-union president in generations. They cited his quick ouster of Trump appointees they regarded as anti-labor, the tens of billions of dollars for shoring up union pension plans enacted in his pandemic relief bill and a video message during a recent union campaign at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama warning employers not to coerce or threaten workers who are deciding whether to unionize.

Many union advocates have compared him favorably with his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, who they complained was loath to support unions vocally.

The task force comes at a particularly frustrating moment for organized labor. Roughly two-thirds of Americans approve of unions, according to a 2020 Gallup poll, but just over 6 percent of private-sector workers belong to them.

Many union officials have cited the loss in the election at Amazon, whose results were announced this month, as an illustration of the need to reform labor law and develop new organizing strategies.

Mr. Biden’s task force will solicit the views of union leaders, academics and labor advocates and is to deliver its recommendations within 180 days.

Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh will serve as vice chair of the group, which will include Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the White House economic advisers Cecilia Rouse and Brian Deese, and the White House climate adviser, Gina McCarthy.

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New Yorker, Pitchfork and Ars Technica unions authorize strike.

Union workers at The New Yorker, Pitchfork and Ars Technica said Friday they had voted to authorize a strike as tensions over contract negotiations with Condé Nast, the owner of the publications, continued to escalate.

In a joint statement, the unions for the three publications said the vote, which received 98 percent support from members, meant workers would be ready to walk off the job if talks over collective bargaining agreements continued to devolve. At The New Yorker, the unionized staff includes fact checkers and web producers but not staff writers, while most editors and writers at Pitchfork and Ars Technica are members.

The unions, which are affiliated with the NewsGuild of New York, which also represents employees at The New York Times, have been separately working toward first-time contracts with Condé Nast. In the case of The New Yorker Union, negotiations have dragged out for more than two years.

The core of their demands, the unions said, were fair contracts that included wage minimums in line with industry standards, clear paths for professional development, concrete commitments to diversity and inclusion, and work-life balance. They said in the statement that Condé Nast had “not negotiated in good faith.”

stopped work for a day in protest over pay. Last year, two high-profile speakers at The New Yorker Festival — Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — vowed not to cross a picket line in solidarity with unionized workers.

The NewsGuild of New York said it would hold a rally for fair contracts on Saturday at Condé Nast’s offices in downtown Manhattan.

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Why Biden May Not Be Able to Save Unions

Two months into the new administration, labor leaders are proclaiming Joseph R. Biden Jr. to be the most union-friendly president of their lifetime — and “maybe ever,” as Steve Rosenthal, a former political director for the A.F.L.-C.I.O., said in an interview.

Mr. Biden has moved quickly to oust government officials whom unions deemed hostile to labor, and to reverse Trump-era rules that weakened worker protections. He has pushed through legislation sending hundreds of billions of dollars to cities and states, aid that public-sector unions consider essential, and tens of billions to shore up union pension plans.

Perhaps most notably, the president appeared in a video alluding to a union vote underway at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, warning that “there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda” — an unusually outspoken move by a president in a standard union election.

Yet Mr. Rosenthal and other labor advocates confess to a gnawing anxiety: Despite Mr. Biden’s remarkable support for their movement, unions may not be much better off when he leaves office than when he entered it.

PRO Act, which the House passed this month — to reverse the trend.

“The PRO Act is vital,” Mr. Rosenthal said. “But what happens now in terms of Republicans in Congress, the Senate filibuster, is anyone’s guess.”

Until recently, it was far from clear that Mr. Biden would govern in such a union-friendly way. Though he has long promoted the benefits of unions and cited close relationships with labor leaders, the president has also maintained ties to corporate figures like Steve Ricchetti, a counselor to the president who was a lobbyist for companies including AT&T and Eli Lilly. Mr. Biden voted over the years for free-trade agreement that unions opposed.

Then there is the fact that he served as vice president in an administration that sometimes annoyed unions, as when President Barack Obama weighed in on behalf of a school district in Rhode Island that fired the faculty of an underperforming school. Mr. Biden also captained an Obama administration team that negotiated with Republicans over deficit reduction, an effort that raised hackles within labor.

During the 2020 presidential campaign, Mr. Biden’s allies and advisers argued that he had merely acted as a loyal deputy to his boss, and that he would prove more in sync with labor as president.

National Labor Relations Board’s general counsel, Peter B. Robb, whose office enforces the labor rights of private-sector employees.

Mr. Robb was deeply unpopular with organized labor, which viewed him as overly friendly to management. His term was set to expire in November, and presidents of both parties have allowed general counsels to serve out their time in office.

But with no letter of resignation from Mr. Robb forthcoming on Inauguration Day, the White House fired him.

“What was really promising and exciting to those of us who care was the firing of Peter Robb and the dramatic way it came down,” said Lisa Canada, the political and legislative director for Michigan’s state carpenters union.

Yet it is the Alabama video that most clearly highlights the differences between Mr. Biden and Mr. Obama on labor. When state workers flocked to Madison, Wis., in 2011 protesting Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to roll back their bargaining rights, union leaders pleaded with the White House to send a top administration official in solidarity. The White House declined, though Mr. Obama did say the plan seemed like “an assault on unions.”

“We made every imaginable effort to get someone there,” said Larry Cohen, who was then president of the Communications Workers of America and is now chair of the progressive advocacy group Our Revolution. “They would not allow anyone to go.”

post a notice promising to abide by labor law in the future, said Wilma B. Liebman, a former board chairwoman. There are no monetary penalties for such violations, though workers can be made whole through back pay.

The PRO Act would outlaw mandatory anti-union meetings, enact financial penalties for threatening or firing workers and help wrongly terminated workers win quick reinstatement. It would also give unions leverage by allowing them to engage in secondary boycotts — say, asking customers to boycott restaurants that buy food from a bakery they are trying to unionize.

statement after the meeting, the council members called for “swift and necessary changes” to Senate rules to remove the filibuster as an obstacle to progressive legislation.

indicated that he is open to weakening the filibuster, though it is not clear whether the PRO Act would benefit.

Mr. Trumka said he was confident that Mr. Biden would seize the opportunity that Mr. Obama had let pass when Democrats enjoyed a large Senate majority but still failed to change labor law. “This president understands the power of solving inequalities through collective bargaining,” Mr. Trumka said.

But others are skeptical that Mr. Biden, for all his outspokenness on behalf of unions, will be in a position to deliver.

“The proof is in the pudding,” said Ruth Milkman, a sociologist of labor at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. “We know where his heart is. It doesn’t mean anything will change.”

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