Most weekend mornings, Jaz Brisack gets up around 5, wills her semiconscious body into a Toyota Prius and winds her way through Buffalo, to the Starbucks on Elmwood Avenue. After a supervisor unlocks the door, she clocks in, checks herself for Covid symptoms and helps get the store ready for customers.
“I’m almost always on bar if I open,” said Ms. Brisack, who has a thrift-store aesthetic and long reddish-brown hair that she parts down the middle. “I like steaming milk, pouring lattes.”
The Starbucks door is not the only one that has been opened for her. As a University of Mississippi senior in 2018, Ms. Brisack was one of 32 Americans who won Rhodes scholarships, which fund study in Oxford, England.
in public support for unions, which last year reached its highest point since the mid-1960s, and a growing consensus among center-left experts that rising union membership could move millions of workers into the middle class.
white-collar workers has coincided with a broader enthusiasm for the labor movement.
In talking with Ms. Brisack and her fellow Rhodes scholars, it became clear that the change had even reached that rarefied group. The American Rhodes scholars I encountered from a generation earlier typically said that, while at Oxford, they had been middle-of-the-road types who believed in a modest role for government. They did not spend much time thinking about unions as students, and what they did think was likely to be skeptical.
“I was a child of the 1980s and 1990s, steeped in the centrist politics of the era,” wrote Jake Sullivan, a 1998 Rhodes scholar who is President Biden’s national security adviser and was a top aide to Hillary Clinton.
By contrast, many of Ms. Brisack’s Rhodes classmates express reservations about the market-oriented policies of the ’80s and ’90s and strong support for unions. Several told me that they were enthusiastic about Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who made reviving the labor movement a priority of their 2020 presidential campaigns.
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Even more so than other indicators, such a shift could foretell a comeback for unions, whose membership in the United States stands at its lowest percentage in roughly a century. That’s because the kinds of people who win prestigious scholarships are the kinds who later hold positions of power — who make decisions about whether to fight unions or negotiate with them, about whether the law should make it easier or harder for workers to organize.
As the recent union campaigns at companies like Starbucks, Amazon and Apple show, the terms of the fight are still largely set by corporate leaders. If these people are increasingly sympathetic to labor, then some of the key obstacles to unions may be dissolving.
suggested in April. The company has identified Ms. Brisack as one of these interlopers, noting that she draws a salary from Workers United. (Mr. Bonadonna said she was the only Starbucks employee on the union’s payroll.)
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.’”
Starbucks allows employees who work at least 20 hours a week to obtain health coverage, more generous than most competitors, and has said it will increase average pay for hourly employees to nearly $17 an hour by this summer, well above the industry norm. The company also offers to pay the tuition of employees admitted to pursue an online bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University, helping it attract workers with college aspirations.
The Status of U.S. Jobs
Such people, in turn, tend to be sympathetic to unions and a variety of social activism. A recent Gallup poll found that people under 35 or who are liberal are substantially more likely than others to support unions.
Several Starbucks workers seeking to organize unions in Buffalo; Boston; Chicago; Seattle; Knoxville, Tenn.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and the Denver area appeared to fit this profile, saying they were either strong supporters of Mr. Sanders and other progressive politicians, had attended college or both. Most were under 30.
“I’ve been involved in political organizing, the Bernie Sanders campaign,” said Brick Zurek, a leader of a union campaign at a Starbucks in Chicago. “That gave me a lot of skill.” Mx. Zurek, who uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, also said they had a bachelor’s degree.
Len Harris, who has helped lead a campaign at a Starbucks near Denver, said that “I admire the progressivism, the sense of community” of politicians like Mr. Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York. She said that she had graduated from college and that she was awaiting admissions decisions for graduate school.
And most union supporters have drawn inspiration from their colleagues in Buffalo. Sydney Durkin and Rachel Ybarra, who are helping to organize a Starbucks in Seattle, said workers at their store discussed the Buffalo campaign almost daily as it unfolded and that one reached out to the union after the National Labor Relations Board announced the initial results of the Buffalo elections in December. (The union’s second victory was announced Monday, after the labor board resolved ballot challenges.)
Ms. Ybarra said the victory showed workers it was possible to unionize despite company opposition. “The Buffalo folks became superheroes,” she said. “A lot of us spent so much time being afraid of retaliation — none of us could afford to lose our jobs, have our hours cut.”
Starbucks has joined a growing list of retailers, restaurants and theme parks that will now allow fully vaccinated customers to go mask free following new coronavirus safety guidance from the federal government.
The company said in a statement that “facial coverings will be optional for vaccinated customers” as of May 17, where allowed by local regulations.
[Answers to your questions about vaccines and masks at work]
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention took many businesses by surprise when it said that people who are vaccinated could go maskless in most places, including indoors. (The policies do not apply to people traveling by bus, plane, train or other kinds of public transportation.) For businesses, the announcement was complicated by the fact that C.D.C. guidance does not override state and local rules. But in a matter of days, several major companies have moved to relax mask requirements. Businesses for the most part have not said they would require customers to show proof that they have been vaccinated.
Here’s the latest on companies that are changing their mask policies.
Costco, which has more than 500 U.S. stores, said it would allow fully vaccinated customers to go mask-free where state and local guidance allows. The retailer said it would “not require proof of vaccination” but would ask for its customers’ “responsible and respectful cooperation with this revised policy.”
Publix, which has 1,270 grocery stores in the Southeast, said “face coverings are optional for fully vaccinated individuals inside Publix stores” subject to local regulations.
Trader Joe’s, which operates 517 grocery stores across the country, said that customers who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear masks in its stores. It will not require proof of vaccination “as we trust our customers to follow C.D.C. guidelines,” a spokeswoman, Kenya Friend-Daniel, said in an email. Masks are still required for store employees.
Walmart and Sam’s Club
Walmart said that vaccinated customers are allowed to go maskless starting May 18 in areas that don’t have stricter mandates. A spokesman for the company, which operates more than 4,000 Walmart and nearly 600 Sam’s Club stores in the United States, said it expects its customers to abide by the honor system. Employees can also go mask-free by answering “yes” to a vaccination question that is part of a daily health assessment.
Walt Disney World Resort in Florida said that it was no longer requiring visitors to wear masks in most outdoor areas as of this weekend, though masks are still required in indoor locations. Disneyland in California continues to require masks indoors and out because of state mandates. Disney’s chief executive, Bob Chapek, said on an earnings call Thursday that the company had begun to increase capacity and that the C.D.C.’s new guidance “is very big news for us, particularly if anybody’s been in Florida in the middle of summer with a mask on.” About 150 million people visited Disney’s parks in 2019.
Hershey Park in Pennsylvania said it would no longer require masks nor social distancing for fully vaccinated guests. The theme park, which drew 3.4 million visitors in 2019, said it would rely on its guests to “accurately follow the guidelines based on their vaccination status.”
Universal Orlando Resortsaid masks are no longer required when outdoors but still must be used in “all indoor locations.” Its theme park in California will still require masks both outside and inside because of the state rules.
Seeing signs that customers are eager to gather and put the dark days of the pandemic behind them, the coffee giant Starbucks said that its sales in the United States made a “full recovery” in the first three months of the year.
Same-store sales in the U.S. climbed 9 percent in the company’s second quarter compared with the same period last year, while global revenues climbed 11 percent to $6.7 billion.
“In the last quarter, we’re seeing very early signs that friends and family were celebrating being together again,” Kevin Johnson, the president and chief executive of Starbucks, said on a call with analysts on Tuesday after the close of the markets. “While certainly not all markets are opening at the same speed in terms of vaccine distribution, we know this is the key that enables all of us to once again be together.”
Starbucks made a profit of $659 million in the quarter, up significantly from $328 million a year earlier, when many of its stores were closed because of the quarantine restrictions around the world.
Starbucks said it expected global same-store sales for the full year to climb as much as 23 percent as the rest of the world recovers and reopens from the pandemic.
“While the Covid-19 pandemic is not over, this moment is giving us confidence to raise our full-year guidance,” Mr. Johnson said.
U.S. members enrolled in its loyalty rewards program grew 18 percent over the past year, Mr. Johnson said; there are now more than 23 million 90-day active members. Drive-through activity also remained robust, with higher ticket sales as customers ordered multiple drinks and often added a food item to their order, like the Impossible Breakfast Sandwich or cake pops, Mr. Johnson said.
And, according to security filings, a select few are rapidly accumulating new fortunes. Chad Richison, founder and chief executive of an Oklahoma software company, Paycom, is worth more than $3 billion and was awarded $211 million last year, when his company made $144 million in profit. John Legere, the former chief executive of T-Mobile, was awarded $137.2 million last year, a reward for taking over the rival Sprint.
“We’ve created this class of centimillionaires and billionaires who have not been good for this country,” said Nell Minow, vice chair of ValueEdge Advisors, an investment consulting firm. “They may build a wing on a museum. But it’s not infrastructure — it’s not the middle class.”
The gap between executive compensation and average worker pay has been growing for decades. Chief executives of big companies now make, on average, 320 times as much as their typical worker, according to the Economic Policy Institute. In 1989, that ratio was 61 to 1. From 1978 to 2019, compensation grew 14 percent for typical workers. It rose 1,167 percent for C.E.O.s.
The pandemic only compounded these disparities, as hundreds of companies awarded their leaders pay packages worth significantly more than most Americans will make in their entire lives.
“To my mind, they’re the logical consequence of our total embrace of shareholder capitalism, starting with the corporate raiders of the 1980s, to the exclusion and sacrifice of all else, including American workers,” said Robert Reich, a labor secretary under President Bill Clinton. “The pay packages reflect soaring share prices, which in turn reflect, at least in part, the willingness if not eagerness of corporations to cut payrolls at the slightest provocation.”
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AT&T, the media conglomerate, lost $5.4 billion and cut thousands of jobs throughout the year. John Stankey, the chief executive, received $21 million for his work in 2020, down from $22.5 million in 2019.
T-Mobile said it would create new jobs through its merger with Sprint, but has already begun layoffs. It made $3.1 billion in 2020. In addition to Mr. Legere’s windfall, the company awarded its current chief executive, Mike Sievert, $54.9 million.