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Unionization Fever Reaches Virginia Target Store

Amazon, step aside. Another retail giant may soon have a unionization battle on its hands. Employees at a Target store in Christiansburg, Va. filed a request with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to hold a union election.

The workers are seeking collective bargaining and already are represented through the New River Valley General Membership Branch of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

The store has 100 employees, according to the petition.

“We want all team members to be better off for working at Target, and years of investments in our culture of care, industry-leading starting wage range of $15 to $24 per hour, expanded health care benefits, debt-free education assistance, personalized scheduling and opportunities for growth have been essential to helping our team members build rewarding careers,” a Target spokesperson told Sourcing Journal.

The NLRB confirmed that its Region 10-Atlanta office received and is docketing petition. Director and press secretary Kayla Blado said it will take “a few days” to reveal if the union has met a “showing of interest,” which means at least 30 percent of employees at the store support unionization.

According to a report from The New Republic, the workers behind the Christiansburg drive hope to be the first of many for the retail chain. Other stores are working in concert with these organizers on following suit, although none are ready to call their own elections, the report said.

Adam Ryan, one of the lead organizers at Target Workers Unite—the umbrella organization for Target employees seeking to unionize—and the Christiansburg store, estimates that workers at about a half-dozen Target stores currently have active but early-stage campaigns. The plan is to make Target Workers Unite a subsidiary of IWW, which they hope will allow them to issue union cards at any store that wants to hold an election. Still, the goal for Target organizers is to eventually organize stores across the country under the Target Workers Unite banner.

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The union push is the culmination of five years of work for Ryan, who first heard about an abusive boss who was sexually harassing employees at his current store back in 2017. Only months after joining the store’s workforce, he helped organize a weeklong strike. The action resulted in Target opening an investigation into the manager and removing him from the store.

Ryan told The New Republic that he wanted to demonstrate to other employees that they can organize and not get fired. From there, Target store workers in a Baltimore location later contacted him and asked for help organizing a similar strike against their own abusive manager. In the Christiansburg store, workers who were at first hostile to the strike later planned a work stoppage to force the company to ban a customer who was harassing women unloading trucks.

Originally, he did not want to form a formal union and instead began working with a nonprofit that was focused on helping workers organize without the official unionization process. But after the nonprofit was hesitant to strike because of its minimal resources, Ryan and his fellow organizers broke off to form Target Workers Unite in late 2018.

The major difference between unionization in retail compared to other “blue collar” working positions is that store employees traditionally don’t have the institutional power behind them that they would with a larger union. There are no paid organizers helping them, so it’s up to workers—who are already pressed for time and resources—to keep it going.

The recent unionization victory for Amazon employees at a Staten Island warehouse was an historic one in that it unleashed the floodgates for further organizing efforts at the e-commerce giant. While a second Staten Island unionization vote did not succeed, the NLRB determined that the company held illegal mandatory meetings ahead of and during both votes, and made illegal threats in those sessions. Amazon has maintained that the allegations are false.

But the first winning vote in Staten Island was the high-profile result that employees at major retailers may have needed to attempt their own union efforts.

REI employees at a Soho store beat Amazon to the punch, as 86 percent of workers voted in favor of unionization. Like the Target employees, the REI workers filed a union election request with the NLRB in January, and felt that collective bargaining power was “necessary for many of us to achieve more stability and security in our lives,” according to Claire Chang, a member of the store’s organizing committee. Soho employees reported unsafe conditions throughout the pandemic and a workplace culture that some said made them uncomfortable.

Target’s chief competitor, Walmart, is not unionized and has staved off organizing efforts for decades. Unionization elections have already succeeded at Apple stores in Atlanta and Baltimore, while nearly 60 Starbucks stores have voted to unionize since December, with dozens more elections filed.