SAN ANTONIO — After union victories by employees of major US companies like Kellogg’s, Starbucks and most recently, Amazon, a San Antonio labor leader spoke with KENS 5 about what could be ahead for unions here in Texas and around the country.
“Hello Cindy. What are we doing for today?” Linda Chavez-Thompson greeted the receptionist in the front office of San Antonio’s chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), before shifting the conversation to some phone calls she needed to make.
Chavez-Thompson is the Executive Vice President Emerita of the San Antonio AFL-CIO. She’s been retired from the organization for 15 years, but she just can’t seem to stop working.
“I keep telling people that one of these days I’m going to retire from retirement,” Chavez-Thompson said.
The past four decades have seen union membership in the United States cut in half, but she's encouraged by a series of recent union victories including Amazon workers in New York voting to form a union on their own.
“I said hallelujah,” Chavez-Thompson said. “Because these workers on their own stood up and said, ‘no, we've had enough. We're standing up for ourselves. We're going to fight back.’"
The American Labor movement may be having a bit of a moment. A recent Gallup poll shows support for labor unions among Americans at it's highest level since 1965.
Chavez-Thompson said her heart has been with the labor movement since her first union job in 1967.
“If you can believe it, back in 1967 the minimum wage in Texas was $1.25.” she said. “And golly, golly, I got hired. And they paid me $1.40 an hour.”
That trend has held over the years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics released a report in January showing non-union workers make 83 cents to the dollar compared to their unionized counterparts.
Chavez-Thompson’s work with various unions has brought her all the way to Washington DC. She even ran for Lieutenant Governor of Texas.
“And now I do it here in San Antonio, for free, I still enjoy the work that we're doing here in San Antonio, and I highly admire all the leadership of this council”
Chavez-Thompson will talk about meeting US Presidents like Clinton, or Obama, but she is quicker to bring up local political figures like San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg or outgoing County Judge Nelson Wolfe.
“They don’t agree with us all the time. We don’t expect them to agree with us all the time,” she said. “But they listen, and they care.”
And while many of the friendlier politician’s she has dealt with have been Democrats, she says, it’s not about partisanship.
“We've endorsed Republicans through this Central Labor Council, we’ve worked with them,” she said. “We’re not Anti-Republican. We are anti-anyone-who-stands-up-and-fights-against-workers, against workers benefits, against dignity, respect.”
She says the Amazon workers vote isn’t just a sign of things to come, but a call to action for her and her fellow organizers.
“The union has organizing funds. The union has the staff that can go out there and set the stage for organizing with a particular employer,” she said. “So, we can help them. all they have to do is call.”