Rally for higher wages.

About Us

Who
We
Are

Unionize.me is a labor union — a 501(c)(5) non-profit — working to end poverty wages at American companies.

We are lawyers, programmers, and political activists committed to a basic social contract: workers must obtain a decent standard of living through their labor.

What exactly does that mean? For starters, a working parent shouldn’t need food stamps to feed her children, public housing to shelter them, and Medicaid to keep them well.

We will push on every available lever — negotiation, consumer action, litigation and, inevitably, worker strikes — to accomplish our aims.

"No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country."

— Franklin Roosevelt

Why
We
Care

KEY FACTS

39%

A "full-time" Walmart or Target employee paid $10/hour earns just 39% of the income needed to support one child.1

53%

53% of low-wage workers (i.e., those making up to $12.16/hour) earn so little that they must rely on public assistance to make ends meet.2

937%

From 1978 through 2013, average CEO compensation increased 937%.3

400

The combined wealth of the richest 400 American families is greater than the combined wealth of 50% of all Americans.4

95%

From 2009 through 2012, 95% of all income growth went to the top 1% of earners.5

America's largest employers pay wages so low that even full-time employees live in poverty.

Our wealthiest citizens have forgotten their common humanity. Measured against MIT's "minimum standard of living" calculation1, or even the tragically low 2016 Federal Poverty Threshold6, the owners of companies like Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Chipotle, Menards and Starbucks are exploiting humans for profit.

The facts speak for themselves:

  • 52% of fast food workers7, and 36% of retail employees8, participate in at least one of four Federal Poverty Relief Programs – Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
  • 69.2% of all public assistance benefits received by non-elderly families go to those who work.8
  • About half (46.9 percent) of all working recipients of public assistance work full time (at least 1,990 hours per year).8
  • Walmart workers alone receive approximately $6.2 billion in public assistance every year.9
  • Many retail and food service businesses define a "full-time" schedule to be less than 40-hours per week. (For example, Walmart defines “full-time” as at least 34-hours per week. Target sets "full-time" at 32-hours per week.) Thus, full-time associates earning $9/hour make just $15,942 per year. Full-time associates earning $10/hour make just $17,680 per year. According to MIT’s living wage calculator, this is not enough money to support the basic needs of a single-adult.1
  • A "full-time" Walmart or Target employee paid $10/hour earns just 39% of the income needed to support a single child. Moreover, two parents working "full-time" do not earn enough to cover the basic needs of two children.1
  • "Full-time" employees earning $10/hour, in a two-member household, qualify for food stamps, Medicaid, Section 8 housing and four other federal poverty relief programs.10
  • The average Chipotle worker earned $19,000 in 2014. Chipotle’s CEO received more than $28,900,000 – 1,522 times that of the average Chipotle employee. It would take roughly 2.9 million hours for a Chipotle employee (making $10/hour) to earn as much as Chipotle’s CEO.11

Poverty wages are inflicting long-term damage on our children.

21 percent of American children — one in five — live below the Federal Poverty Threshold.12 Let that sink in. In the richest nation in the history of the world, 15.4 million children don’t have secure food and housing.12 What's more, despite that children comprise only 23% of the population, they account for 32% of poor Americans.12 And here’s the kicker: 30% of impoverished children have a parent working 40 hours per week.12

Poverty-wage employers like Chipotle, Walmart, Menards and Target are selling out the health and well-being of a generation for pennies on the share. Poverty wages – and the stresses attendant to an inability to secure basic resources – are strongly associated with poor outcomes for children.13 14 15 In particular, poverty literally shrinks the developing brain14, and has "lifelong consequences for educational achievement, economic productivity, health status, and longevity."15

In a nutshell, "[p]oorer children have worse cognitive, social, behavioral and health outcomes in part because they are poorer."13

"[I]t is appropriate to question whether employers are effectively passing off a portion of their societal responsibilities on to taxpayers."

— David Cooper, Economic Policy Institute

Our
Strategy

Keep Them Guessing

It is important that we not underestimate the tactics and resources that corporate managers exploit to cripple newborn unionization efforts. Companies like Walmart, Menards and Chipotle have:

  • hired intelligence gathering services to spy on employees attempting to organize16
  • incentivized store managers to stamp out unions17
  • intimidated, disciplined and/or fired individual workers for participating in early unionization efforts; and/or18
  • closed entire departments and/or stores in response to fledgling union activity19

Stores like Walmart and Target have relied previously on the fact that union card signings happen largely in the open. That is, they have obtained advance notice that serious attempts at unionization were ongoing at specific store. As a result, they’ve been extraordinarily successful at suppressing early-stage union organization.

Therefore, we need to change the way that workers organize.

Unionize.me provides a platform where workers can organize in private, gathering strength and numbers, before a company knows it’s happening. You need not attend a meeting to join Unionize.me. Instead, you sign your union card on a smartphone or computer — away from the eyes of company management. And, as described in more detail below, we only take action when our membership is too big to be ignored.

"Strike the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which he is unprepared."

— U.S. Air Force Manual, 1-1

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

— Margaret Mead

Strength in Clusters

We do not seek mere moral victory. It is not enough to organize one department or a single store. Such small victories are admirable, but short-lived. In the presence of a tiny threat, poverty-wage companies ‘make an example’ out of the single unionizing store, in hopes of discouraging others. Thus far, it’s worked.

Unionize.me will not rest until its members earn a livable wage, working stable hours, with affordable health benefits. In a society as wealthy as ours, these ought to be modest goals. Yet reality is stark. We live in a world where our largest companies aren’t satisfied with merely abundant profits.20 Instead, they covet gargantuan gains — mammoth sums borne on the backs of working families.

Thus, extraordinary leverage is required to achieve our aims. Clusters are a means to acquire that leverage.

Here's how it works:

In most cases, we won’t submit union cards to the NLRB when we’ve organized a single store. Rather, with the help of elementary data science, we cluster organized stores, and submit union cards in tandem, to make it more difficult for management to defeat union elections. What’s more, clusters are selected to maximize negotiating leverage after a successful election, as a strike will impact a company’s ability to serve customers in an entire region.

For more information on the union election process, click here.

Strike for a Just Wage

We’d prefer to secure a $15/hour wage by appealing only to corporate leaders’ decency, compassion and sense of justice. Ideally, mere human concern for the well-being of millions of families would suffice to draw CEOs to the bargaining table. Regrettably, however, greed has so corrupted our bargaining counterparts that they support an entire industry devoted to undermining fair wages.21 Our adversaries are well organized; we too must be organized.

Through technology, litigation and hard work, Unionize.me seeks to rival the industry allied against working families. Nonetheless, our organization is only a platform. It is our members that must stand up, take to the picket line, and disrupt the status quo.

Admittedly, this is a daunting reality for those already struggling to make ends meet. We wish the world was different. Yet if you want financial security for your family, you must make company management feel the pain of poverty wages. Strikes make that possible.

"Silence never won rights. They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressures from below."

— Roger Baldwin

"Every advance in this half-century — Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education, one after another — came with the support and leadership of American Labor."

— President Jimmy Carter

Restart the Conversation

There was a time when the workplace occupied the center of American political and social discourse — a topic every bit as important as education and public safety. It was not mere economic activity. Rather, labor was a noble pursuit; a source of human dignity; an institution of reverence.

Given its prominence in American life, the "labor question" was inextricably bound up with democratic values. In 1915, Louis Brandeis wrote, concerning the "right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," that: "[l]ife, in this connection, means living not existing; liberty, [means] freedom in things industrial as well as political . . . In order that men may live and not merely exist . . . they must have a reasonable income."22

Somewhere along the way, we've forgotten that democratic values don't end at the ballot box. In the words of President Woodrow Wilson: "The object of all reform... must be the genuine democratization of industry, based upon a full recognition of the right of those who work, in whatever rank, to participate in some organic way in every decision which directly affects their welfare."23

We must rediscover the importance of democratic values at work and reengage the "labor question" in our political discourse. Unionize.me is fighting to restart that conversation.

Our
Principles

Justice is Fairness

Nobody is arguing that the checkout clerk should make as much money as the CEO, or that the barista's income ought to be level with that of the VP of marketing. Such inequities are justified by the scarcity of the skills required to do these jobs well.

Yet there is something gravely wrong with an organization, like Chipotle, whose CEO makes $29,000,000, while its rank-and-file live at the poverty line; or an organization like Walmart, whose employees survive on food stamps while its founding family has more wealth than 49 million American families combined.

We believe that John Rawls had it right. Corporate executives should make decisions about wages and hours from the perspective of the least advantaged employee. Therefore, our negotiating position is simple: even the lowest paid employee must earn a decent wage.

"A just society is a society that if you knew everything about it, you'd be willing to enter it in a random place. . . . The fairest rules are those to which everyone would agree if they did not know how much power they would have."

– John Rawls

Litigation

"Where trade unions are most firmly organized, there are the rights of the people most respected."

— Samuel Gompers

There has never been a union more likely to enforce workers' rights in federal court

The National Labor Relations Act provides that employees have the right to join together to improve their pay and working conditions, without interference from their employer. In fact, it is "the policy of the United States . . . to encourage the practice and procedure of collective bargaining by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating terms and conditions of their employment . . ."31

Too often, however, employers violate the law with impugnity. For example, in a study of 62 union campaigns in Chicago, nearly half of the companies illegally threatened to close the business if employees chose to unionize.32 30% of companies fired employees for union organizing.32 And nearly all the companies hired an outside anti-union consultant to coordinate their anti-union campaign.32

Companies often get away with illegal anti-union tactics because workers don't have the resources to hire legal counsel to enforce their rights. Conversely, corporations like Walmart can afford the best white-shoe law firms that money can buy.

Our team of lawyers plans to change all that. We will not be intimidated by the fancy, large law firms of our adversaries. Why is that? We trained at those same firms, and understand how the game is played.

When one of our members is targeted with an unfair labor practice, we will take immediate legal action against the offending corporation.