DENVER (KDVR) — Between coffee, groceries and the new legislative session, unions are at an uncharacteristic forefront in the Colorado labor conversation.
On Colfax Avenue and Milwaukee Street in Denver, Starbucks workers are petitioning to unionize in solidarity with other stores across the country. Only last month, a Buffalo Starbucks became the first in the nation to vote to unionize. The vote quickly became a trend. The Denver location is one of 54 stores in 19 different states trying to organize.
Elsewhere, union talks have taken center stage in Colorado public life.
The Local 7 strike at King Soopers resulted in a new workers contract that increased worker pay by as much as $5 an hour for some workers. The Colorado General Assembly is considering a bill that would alter the law and allow local government workers to join unions without any local legislation to expressly allow it.
The push towards labor organization comes at a time when statewide union membership is at a low.
The percentage of people in Colorado’s workforce who are union members has fallen since reaching a ten-year peak in 2018. There were 165,000 union members in Colorado at the end of 2021, down from 280,000 in 2018.
That means less union membership than ever. Statewide, only 7.5% of Colorado’s workers were union members in 2021, the lowest percentage in U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics records and nearly half of the membership rate of 2018.
The Starbucks petition to unionize in Denver would be a chip in an otherwise underrepresented part of the workforce – baristas.
Food and beverage service workers have some of the nation’s lowest union membership rates, and falling at that. Only 1.2% of the nation’s food and drink service workers are union members, one of the lowest rates in the last 20 years.
In contrast, public employees such as police, firefighters and teachers are among the most-unionized. Over 40% of local government employees are union members. Colorado’s rate for local government workers lags behind this national figure, as state law forbids Colorado local government employees to organize unless city laws explicitly allow them to. A bill slated for introduction this legislative session would change that.