Starbucks employees react as votes are read during a viewing of their union election on Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y.  Starbucks workers have voted to unionize over the company’s objections, pointing the way to a new labor model for the coffee giant

Starbucks employees react as votes are read during a viewing of their union election on Dec. 9, 2021, in Buffalo, N.Y. Starbucks workers have voted to unionize over the company’s objections, pointing the way to a new labor model for the coffee giant

Once considered a marquee assignment, the labor beat spent years on the decline. Over the past decade, however, the beat has bounced back to cover everything from how Uber treats its workers to the #MeToo movement to the lack of affordable child care. Fueled by the Great Recession, the rise of digital media, and the pandemic, today’s labor beat tackles a different set of questions from its union-centric predecessor: Will many white-collar workers never return to the office? Will pandemic-battered workers press for workplace safety? And will the Great Resignation cause American corporations to treat their workers better?

Former New York Times labor reporter Steve Greenhouse explores these issues, among others, in his cover story for our Winter 2022 issue, “From Covid-19 to #MeToo, The Labor Beat Is Resurgent.” Moderated by senior editor Laura Colarusso, Nieman Reports hosted a Twitter Spaces discussion on Greenhouse’s piece and how more newsrooms are making workplace safety, unionization, and remote work front-page stories. Guests in the space included:

  • Steve Greenhouse was a New York Times reporter for 31 years, covering labor and workplace matters from 1995 to 2014. He is also the author of “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor,” to be published this August by Knopf.
  • Lauren Kaori Gurley is a senior staff writer at Motherboard, VICE’s tech site. She reports on the intersection of labor and technology, in particular at Amazon.
  • Edward Ongweso Jr. is a New York City-based reporter covering labor and technology, also for Motherboard.
  • Hamilton Nolan is writing a book about the labor movement for Hachette Books. He has been a labor reporter for In These Times, Gawker, Splinter, and elsewhere.

Read the full transcript below:

Laura Colarusso: All right, everyone. We’re going to get started. Hello and welcome to Neiman Reports’ Twitter Space uncovering the labor beat. My name is Laura Colarusso, and I am the senior editor at Nieman Reports, which is an online and quarterly publication dedicated to elevating and promoting the standards of journalism.

I’m very excited to be moderating our panel today on what the labor beat looks like and how it might evolve in the future. Before we look forward, however, I thought we take a minute to look back.

Labor reporting had a major presence in newspapers across the country for a large chunk of the 20th century. Starting around the 1930s, there was an abundance to cover whether it was the Flint sit-down strike or how the new deal led to a surge of unionization efforts at auto plants, steel mills, coal mines, and many other work sites across the US.

Over the next few decades, massive labor strikes ruled the country. As Steve Greenhouse wrote in our latest cover story, labor often dominated the front pages of newspapers, whether you’re talking about corruption of the Teamsters in the 1950s, the rise of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm workers in the 1960s, or Ronald Reagan crushing the air traffic controller strike in 1981.

Starting in the 1970s, we saw a wave of consolidation within the newspaper business, and family‑owned papers were bought up by chains more interested in targeting, as Steve writes, “affluent college educated and suburban readers whom advertisers wanted to reach.”

Labor stories became less desirable as editors assign more pieces on topics like food, travel, lifestyle, and how to invest. At the same time, union membership was declining. As newsrooms downsized, the labor reporter was often the first to be laid off or offered a buyout.

In the last 10 years or so, the labor beat has seen a resurgence fueled mostly by the great recession and the Covid‑19 pandemic. For the latter, the gyrations of the labor market combined with the health hazards of going to work every day has pushed labor stories, front and center for many news organizations.

With all that said, I’d like to introduce our panel. I mentioned Steve Greenhouse before. In addition to writing our cover story, he’s also joining us today to talk about the evolution of the labor beat. Steve was a New York Times reporter for 31 years, covering labor and workplace matters from 1995 to 2014. He is also the author of “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor,” to be published this August by Knopf.

Lauren Kaori Gurley is a senior staff writer at Motherboard, Vice’s tech site. She reports on the intersection of labor and technology, in particular at Amazon. She’s probably had some of the most major scoops during the pandemic that we’ve seen, especially around working conditions that Amazon drivers face as they try to meet delivery quotas.

We also have with us today Edward Ongweso Jr. He’s a New York City‑based reporter covering labor and technology, also from Motherboard. And Hamilton Nolan, who is writing a book about the labor movement for Hachette Books. He has been a labor reporter for In These Times, Gawker, Splinter, and elsewhere.

One more note before we get started, please tweet your questions to us at @niemanreports. We’ll make sure to get to as many of your questions as we can. Let’s get started. Hamilton, I’m going to start with you. How have you seen the labor beat evolve during your time as a reporter?

Hamilton Nolan: Thank you for having me. First of all, during my time as a labor reporter, which is much shorter than Steve Greenhouse’s time definitely, but say over the past decade or so since I’ve been writing a lot of labor stories, I definitely think that today it’s a much more popular beat. It’s a much more well‑staffed beat relative to something to extremely low staffing.

I think it’s a better-read beat. I mean, fundamentally there’s a lot of union drives, and union campaigns, and workplace issues today that automatically get covered, and get widely covered, in a way that a decade ago it was much more common to me to feel like I was the only person writing about something. Today that’s not the case. I’d take that as an improvement.

Colarusso:  Just as a quick follow‑up, what do you think qualifies as a labor story now? Have you seen that change?

Nolan: One way for that it’s useful for media people in particular to look at the labor beat, is every newspaper has a business section, and labor is just the business section from the perspective of human beings, rather than from the perspective of capital.

It actually makes a lot more sense to write about labor because every one of us is a worker. Whereas very few of us are hedge fund managers or institutional investors. Labor is essentially anything that touches on work and how people support themselves and live.

Colarusso: Great. Thank you. Lauren, I’m curious about your experience. What have you seen as you’ve been a labor reporter?

Lauren Kaori Gurley: Sure. I’ve only been on the labor beat and only been working as a reporter since the summer of 2019, so just a few months before the pandemic started. I’m relatively new, newer than Steve and newer than Hamilton.

At the time, I was trying to figure out what I wanted to cover as a reporter, and I wanted something that encompassed all of the most pressing issues of our time, which I think of as structural inequality, racism, gender oppression, immigration.

The labor beat, the first labor reporter I came across was Sarah Jaffe. She used all of those things or incorporated all of those things into her reporting. There weren’t very many labor reporters back then. Steve, Hamilton were there, Michelle Chen, but it wasn’t anything like it is two‑and‑a‑half years later.

I was incredibly shocked when I saw that Vice was hiring specifically a labor reporter, and I applied. Since then, when I first started off, if there was, for example, a walkout at an Amazon warehouse, we would always cover it. On Twitter, it’s like a walk-out at an Amazon warehouse in 2019 would go viral and be a huge story because it never happened, but now it’s happening all of the time. Sometimes, we won’t even cover something like that. A lot of strikes or tech company unionizing that would have been major headlines back in 2019 are no longer that in 2021.

The pandemic has changed the landscape of the beat, which we’ll talk about more. So much more attention to it. These are front‑page headline stories that you’re seeing when maybe before, they were a lot more focused on sick days, healthcare benefits, child care, but then a lot of enthusiasm for strikes and walkouts over these issues.

Another thing is at some point, there became too many stories to cover. Now that maybe there’s less pandemic coverage and we aren’t in the middle of 2020, the field of labor reporters is a lot more crowded and it’s a lot more competitive, which maybe makes my job a little harder.

It’s great that there’s so many more labor reporters now, because there are too many stories to be told, and a fraction of them are still being reported on.

Colarusso: That makes sense. One thing you said about how stories would go viral, especially around Amazon walkouts made me wonder, has social media helped newsroom leadership understand better that these stories connect with people and that’s why we are seeing also more labor coverage coming? What is the nexus between labor coverage and social? That’s for you again, Lauren.

Kaori Gurley: Definitely. For a long time, it was, and maybe still is, hard to get editors to assign labor stories, but these stories tend to go viral. In terms of traffic, if you tell a labor story in the right way, it can do well traffic‑wise. That shows the appetite that there is right now for this type of news.

Maybe if there’s pushback from the top, I think that a lot of times now, editors are more willing because they see the level of enthusiasm that this is being met with. A good example of this is the new outlet, More Perfect Union, which does a lot of labor coverage and their stories go wildly viral basically every time.

These are stories about basic workplace struggles that our workers are facing around the country. There’s nothing new about them, necessarily.

Colarusso: Great. Thank you. Edward, I wanted to ask you a little bit about your background because I know you cover technology and labor. That leads to an interesting question for me about how labor reporting is touching upon a lot of different aspects of life, and so therefore there’s a lot of crossover between beats and the newsroom. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Edward Ongweso Jr.: Echoing what Hamilton and Lauren were saying, there has been a lot of focus at times and previously on the business side of things. I’m also new. I was brought on around the same time as Lauren to cover labor in Silicon Valley.

Most of the coverage, even at that point, was mainly focused on perspectives of financiers and various capitalists involved in startups and firms, even when there was a scandal as opposed to what was going on for the workers or for the people who made the business models as workable as they could possibly be.

There’s been labor coverage throughout the years, for example, with Uber, of Lyft, of WeWork, but it was never the dominant narrative that informed how people would understand and view these companies, even though it should have been, and now is, to an extent.

This has been a good shift and also has opened people’s maybe eyes or perspectives to the fact that, like Hamilton said, we’re all workers.

Especially in the tech sector, where there’s been a lot of efforts over the years to emphasize or convince workers that they’re not workers, that they’re taken care of in specific ways that don’t require them to unionize, or don’t require them to have forms of solidarity.

Or, to think of themselves in any way that might be antagonistic to capital as they’re trying to get more control over their workplaces.

Realizing that their interests are opposed to their companies that might be interested in getting into defense contracting, or companies that might be interested in creating software to deport migrants, or creating software that surveils people, or that does racial discrimination.

Realizing that workplace democracy or worker autonomy comes against the goals of the company to create products and services that do these things that are immoral, unethical, but incredibly profitable and would have been fine for them to have done without much scrutiny five, 10, 15, 20 years ago, pretty much.

Also, the ascension of labor coverage or maybe of attention paid to the labor dynamics also has given another avenue of criticism for these things and awareness that, one, they’ve been going on for a very long time, but, two, that there are other ways, maybe other levers and other opportunities to stop them.

Thinking about, what would a company, or what would this workplace look like if you gave workers enough power, autonomy to put a stop to some of these practices?

Colarusso: Steve, as you were reporting your story for Nieman Reports, what did you make of the changes you were seeing on the beat? How do you see the evolution of the labor beat?

Steven Greenhouse: Great to be here. Great to be with these terrific labor reporters, Lauren, Hamilton, and Edward. There are many other great young labor reporters out there.

Back in the 1990s, first decade of this century, there was a lull in the labor beat. A lot of newspapers, The Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, The Wall Street Journal, all stopped having full‑time labor reporters partly because there wasn’t much usually exciting happening with labor unions.

In the past decade or so, I’ve seen the resurgence, revival in the labor beat and labor reporting. As I explained in the story I wrote for Nieman Reports, partly is that all these editors discovered the importance during the great recession of 2007 to 2009 of stories about workers because so many millions of workers are hurting during the Great Recession.

Then there was the explosion of digital media like Vice, Vox, and Slate. They leaned left and were really into labor reporting. Their leaders were really into labor reporting. We’ve seen a huge growth of labor reporting in digital media.

Right now, Laura, there’s the most excitement and most labor coverage I’ve seen since I began covering labor for The New York Times back in 1995, so more than 25 years. I think there’s several reasons for that. One, the pandemic focused everyone’s eyes on work. As Edward said, it became a huge story how usually exploited and mistreated a lot of front‑line essential workers were treated. They weren’t given masks. They weren’t protected enough. They were squeezed together in meat‑packing plants.

A second aspect is the pandemic has changed how we work. There’s been this huge burst of remote work. Many industries are having a huge problem getting enough workers, this so‑called labor shortage. That’s been a big issue.

Then there was this burst of strikes over the past year because a lot of workers, whether Kellogg, Nabisco, or John Deere, felt that they gave their all during the pandemic. They risked their lives going to work every day, and they felt that their companies, which were making lots of money, were not being nearly generous enough to reward them for their dedication during the pandemic.

The last issue I think why we’re seeing this surge in labor coverage is there has been a wave of unionization efforts in some very well‑known places, most notably Starbucks and Amazon, but also museums like the Art Institute of Chicago. We saw this huge strike by grad students at Columbia University.

There’s a real excitement, a real ferment about labor, which spills into the coverage. There’s also a lot of attention to the huge changes in the workplace because of the pandemic. Those two together, the ferment among unions and organizing the strikes and the great interest in changes in work because of the pandemic, have created this huge surge in labor reporting right now.

Colarusso: Steve, given all of that, and I think you’ve mentioned that there’s been an explosion of labor coverage, what does that resurgence of the beat say about where we are as a country do you think?

Greenhouse: One of the few good aspects of the pandemic, to my mind, is millions of so‑called invisible workers — the bus drivers, the cashiers, the delivery workers — that people paid very, very little attention to during the pandemic, people started realizing that these are truly essential workers. These are truly front‑line workers whom we, as a society, need to help keep the glue of society together and help society move forward.

I think there’s been more appreciation of the important work, the valuable work that a lot of low‑wage workers do. The lowest‑wage workers are getting the highest percentage raises now partly because so many employers were paying them too little. So many employers had bought into this whole low‑road economy thing.

I think that’s good that the pandemic has gotten the nation to pay far more attention to these low‑wage workers. They’re being rewarded. They’re given more respect. They’re given higher pay. The question is what will all this mean a year, two years, three years, four years from now, and that’s unclear.

There has been a definite increase in labor coverage. I don’t think it’s going to fall back to… Once we stop having this so‑called labor shortage, once the pandemic ends, once the people sort out what’s happening with remote work, there will probably be somewhat of a decline in labor coverage. I can’t believe it’s going to recede to where it was 10 to 15 years ago. It’s good that we will see more labor coverage, more workplace coverage, overall.

As Hamilton said, we are all workers. Most of us spend more time working than anything else in our lives. It’s very important, for we as a society, for us as a democracy to learn more about, write more about, talk more about, how workers are treated because it’s such an important part of everybody’s life.

Colarusso: I want to go to an audience question now. Mimi Parreault is asking how have journalists’ perspectives on personal work conditions influenced their attention to other labor concerns? Hamilton, why don’t we start with you?

Nolan: It’s a great question. That leads me to one other reason for the rise in labor coverage, which has been the rise and unionization of the media itself.

Since 2015 or so, thousands and thousands and thousands of journalists from all the way from digital media places like Gawker Media where I worked, or Vice where Lauren and Edward work, all the way up to the L.A. Times and the New Yorker magazine, have joined unions. They have joined the Writers Guild and the NewsGuild.

You’re talking about thousands of journalists who have gone through the process of not only becoming union members, but many of them have gone through the process of organizing their co‑workers, bargaining contracts, fighting the boss, fighting against anti‑union campaigns.

That experience changes people. It changes reporters, and it changes their interests. It opens their eyes to labor and the power of labor as a decisive issue in this country.

I absolutely do think that the experience of going through that for so many reporters across the country has, without a doubt, spurred a lot of interest in labor as a beat and helped the cause, that broader wave of journalists looking out to the rest of the country, saying this is something we need to cover more.

Colarusso: What are some of the factors that led to that wave of unionization, do you think?

Nolan: In many cases, journalism is an unstable field. It’s not a field anymore where you can build a career or when we unionized Gawker in 2015. It’s a field that attracts a lot of smart people that love what they do, but they have a very hard time making a living. You have to change jobs every other year.

You cannot build a career in the way that you could a generation ago in this industry. People want to change that. There’s enough smart people in journalism to open their eyes and see that the people that owned these companies were making a lot of money and we weren’t.

Colarusso: Lauren, looking forward, we’re in an election year. We’ve got midterms coming up in November. What stories or themes do you think will be most important to the labor beat as we move towards the election?

Kaori Gurley: One thing I’m paying attention to is the Prop 22 battle of Massachusetts, which mirrors what happened in California last year where gig economy companies paid millions and millions of dollars to get a ballot initiative that would essentially carve out a third type of gig workers that doesn’t have the same benefits as an employee.

We’re seeing others fight along those lines playing out in states like Connecticut and Illinois. I’m paying attention to that. I don’t follow election super closely. I would say that I’m also paying a ton of attention now to what’s going on in retail fast food or service industry since 90 Starbucks have announced that they’re petitioning for union elections since September or November.

I cover Amazon, so I’m continuing to pay attention to the warehouse organizing and delivery driver organizing, which is only going to be picking up this year. The Teamsters are organizing all over the country, and we have RWDSU and other unions that are making headway into Amazon.

Last year, it was the first union election at an Amazon warehouse in U.S. history, and I think that it’s not going to be the last one. There’s going to be a lot more attention that I’ll be paying attention to on that this year. Maybe someone else has a better answer about the midterms specifically.

Greenhouse:  I imagine that wages are going to be a big issue, partly because inflation’s so high. A lot of workers feel that their wages aren’t keeping up. Somehow figuring out ways to raise wages will be important.

If the Democrats have half a brain, they’ll push very hard on raising the federal minimum wage, which almost all Republicans will oppose again. That, I imagine, would be a good campaign issue, an outstanding issue for Democrats.

Another big issue, and it was going to be part of Build Back Better, is trying to help workers on childcare. So many women have dropped out of the workforce during the pandemic because they couldn’t get childcare because the childcare centers were closed because they couldn’t afford it. The Build Back Better bill addressed that.

I see many family work groups, women groups are still pushing very hard, saying, “The childcare system in the United States is very broken. It’s much worse than in other industrial nations. We want you, Joe Biden, we want Congress to address this because this is still a burden for many families and it disproportionately hurts women.”

I imagine that could be another fairly big issue going into November.

Colarusso: Thanks, Steve. I’m going to go to another audience question. Dr. Anita Varma is asking, “How do folks working in labor organizations respond to your requests for interviews? Do they express hesitations or issues about speaking on the record?” Why don’t we go to Hamilton for that question first?

Nolan: It varies widely. Some of them are great. Like in all beats, some are great and some are less great. If there are labor people listening to this call, I would say in general, labor reporters are your friend. That doesn’t mean that you’re going to love every story that we write, and we might write critical stories.

Labor journalism, and the existence of labor journalism, and the health of labor journalism is vital to the labor movement itself, because when labor journalism declines, a lot of labor actions are like a tree falling in the forest with nobody around to hear it.

It’s vital to the labor movement that labor journalism as a beat stays healthy. What you can do for that if you work in labor is to talk to us and help us out.

Colarusso: Edward, what advice do you have for reporters starting out on the labor and workplace beat, or labor and technology beat, or if their beat is going to cover labor in any way, what advice do you have for them, or what advice do you have for editors trying to triage coverage in a resource‑constrained environment?

Ongweso: That’s a great question. It helps to try and embed yourself in spaces and earn the trust of workers. With app‑based workers, a lot of, for example, where I focused a lot in my first two years, a lot of them congregate in very specific spaces.

Sometimes, it’s physical. Most of them are digital, online, and will understandably be hesitant about a reporter trying to join in because there’s fear of retaliation. It’s their livelihood. That also means figuring out what they are comfortable with offering up, talking about, and trying to make very clear how, like Hamilton said, you’re on their side.

The goal here is to tell a story about their conditions, especially if you are trying to report on exploitive conditions. That goes for pretty much every community. Right now, I’ve been trying to work a lot on labor in crypto spaces, and in crypto communities, in some of the games that they’re trying to create, in some of the projects that they’re trying to build.

Understandably, most people are pretty hesitant to connect. It goes a long way simply talking with people and expressing what it is that you’re trying to do and be open about it, showing them previous reporting. You can’t do that if you’re a new reporter in the field.

Having a good idea of why it is that you’re trying to go in and talk to people versus coming in, not building trust, not listening to people, not centering their own stories about what’s going on in their lives, and instead coming in as if you know what to say and how to tell whatever story you’re looking for.

You have to remember constantly, you’re trying to communicate or translate whatever it is that they’re experiencing. You’re not trying to fit it into whatever preconceived story that you might have, which can happen at times, definitely happened for me when I first started on the beat.

Colarusso: Thank you. Lauren, do you have any advice?

Kaori Gurley: I agree with everything that Edward said. It’s great to follow the news cycle, and who’s on strike, and who’s unionizing, and stuff like this. It’s been helpful for me to look for stories, like Edward said, in places other people might not be looking, so in Facebook groups, on Reddit forums, on Instagram, on Twitter.

Talking to workers that you see on a day‑to‑day basis at big chains or things like this. There are times when unions and workers’ centers are maybe not so helpful or are closed off, and I wanted to be protective of the workers. They’re usually your friend and are very helpful to get a sense of all of the issues that are going on.

It’s also important to come to it, understanding the vulnerabilities that the workers you want to be talking to, the vulnerable position that they’re in in speaking to a reporter, that someone could lose their job, which is their livelihood.

Communicating clearly about what those risks are, and building trust with a person, and figuring out a way where you can tell their story in a way that’s comfortable with them instead of trying to move as quickly as possible.

It’s been also really helpful for me to find key sources at Amazon or at Instacart or different companies and check in with those people constantly. That could be blue collar workers, white collar workers, people in different parts of the company. Sometimes, it’s someone I wouldn’t expect who just has a ton of information about what’s going on in a particular labor space.

For editors, I don’t know. I already mentioned this. Labor stories do really well if they’re packaged in the right way and told empathetically, which is just evidenced by what’s going on social media and the stories that people are reading and are getting all of this traffic.

That in itself should be enough, but as people have mentioned already, these stories can be sold as [laughs] or put into the category of business reporting or even human interest stories or breaking news. There’s a lot of ways to squeeze labor stories into other categories too.

Greenhouse: Laura, Steve again. I want to interrupt. Sorry. I agree with everything that Lauren and Edward said, just framing it slightly differently. If you’re a new labor reporter and want to find good stories, you realize that a lot of the best stories are about workers who are the most exploited, who face minimum wage violations, who are put into very dangerous conditions.

The question then is “How do you track down those stories?” You could go to a construction site and try to speak to workers and ask about what’s happening. You can try to go a worker center and ask them, “Who are the worst employers? What are the worst practices? Can you arrange for me to speak to some of the workers who are the victims of these horrible practices?”

Ditto, you can do that with labor unions. Construction unions often have tales of horrible conditions for non‑union workers. They’ll help set them up. You can go to lawyers who represent workers who are not being paid the minimum wage or face horrible sexual harassment. They’ll be happy to help you find people to interview.

Another very good source is state and federal wage and hour offices. They’ll have all these tales of workers who are not paid time and a half overtime or workers who work 60 hours a week but are only paid for 40 hours a week.

Have a general idea of what the best stories are out there, and then try to find workers who probably fit the bill, who have been terribly exploited or faced horribly dangerous conditions. Dennis Lawrence said there are a lot of good personal profiles you could do. There are, of course, the stories about the important strikes and organizing Starbucks.

There are a lot of good, exclusive stories one could find by going out into the field and interviewing rank‑and‑file workers.

Colarusso: Thanks, Steve. I want to take one more listener or audience question before we start to wrap up here. Robert P. Alvarez is asking about public support for unions. Can you talk about whether there’s a rise in support coinciding with what feels like a resurgence in unionization efforts?

Steve, I feel like that’s a question for you and something that you covered in the piece that we did together.

Greenhouse: Sure. For more than 60, 70 years, the Gallup Poll has done an annual survey of how the American public feels about unions. The most recent poll in August of 2021 found that 68 percent of Americans approve of unions. That ties the highest level in the past going back to 1965, the highest level in 56, 57 years.

That means that Americans approve of unions, are enthusiastic about unions. Joe Biden is the most pro‑union president certainly since FDR, maybe the most pro‑union president ever. Among young people, we’re seeing huge interest in unions. That Gallup Poll found that 77 percent of Americans aged 18 to 34 approve of unions. That’s a very high number.

We’re seeing lots of young people trying to unionize, at Starbucks, at Amazon, at muesums, at non‑profits, at political campaigns, graduate students, adjunct professors. Right now, there’s this wave of enthusiasm for unions.

One other study I’ll point to, some professors at MIT did a survey a few years ago asking non‑union workers, “Would you vote for a union today if you could?” Basically, one in two non‑union workers said they would like to join a union.

We have this crazy disconnect where only six percent of the nation’s private sector workers are in unions while one in two workers, 50 percent of workers, would like to be in a union. The main reason why there’s this huge disconnect is that corporations like Amazon, Walmart, and Starbucks fight so, so, so aggressively to dissuade, to deter their workers from unionizing.

Colarusso: Thanks, Steve. Our last question for today is going to be looking to the future. Steve’s piece ends on what you might consider a pessimistic note. Christopher Martin, a professor of digital journalism at the University of Northern Iowa says that he’s concerned that labor coverage will once again recede when the pandemic fades.

I know that Steve mentioned earlier he doesn’t think that it’s going to go back to where it was 15 years ago. I wanted to survey the panel to see if anyone’s concerned that we might see the pendulum swing back a little bit once some of the more difficult issues we’re confronting with the pandemic start to go away a little bit. Hamilton, maybe you could kick us off on this question.

Nolan: It’s true that the pandemic made the entire country into one big labor story for a couple years. That particular aspect or angle of labor reporting is definitely going to fade with the pandemic. In the big picture, I don’t think that labor reporting is going to decline not only because there’s so many good labor reporters out there right now, but the big picture framing all of this is the rise of inequality in America.

Inequality’s been on the rise for a half century, more or less, in America, and that’s what’s driving all the underlying issues that make labor and the decline of labor power such an important story. As long as inequality continues to shape the foundations of this country and tear us down, labor’s going to be an important beat, and there’s no way to ignore it.

Colarusso: What do you think, Lauren?

Kaori Gurley: I agree with everything Hamilton said. Also, going back to what Steve Greenhouse was charting, this history of the resurgence, the resurgence didn’t start with the pandemic. It started back with the 2008 recession and the gutting of newsrooms.

All of those things are still true. The wages are still stagnant, and we’re seeing the extraordinary wealth of billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, whose workers are making $15, $16, $17 an hour and not getting a share of that wealth.

That anger and the enthusiasm to do something about it is contagious, as you’re seeing with Starbucks and other organizing that’s going on. Maybe it will recede a bit, but I’m overall not concerned.

Colarusso: Edward, we’ll give you the last word. What do you think?

Ongweso: I see there are a few things that I hope might result in it staying and maybe even growing. I feel that the pandemic, of course, coverage of labor was big there.

It also opened up for a lot of people the possibility of an alternative to the way that things are and maybe asking why they were trapped in the working conditions that they were for so long, why it was so easy to flip a switch for some places, or why, during the pandemic, they continued to have poor working conditions.

The ongoing growth of militancy in Silicon Valley or maybe the rise in some sort of consciousness and self‑recognition as workers, among workers in Silicon Valley, is also going to be something that plays a key role, especially as the Silicon Valley’s tech bubble continues to grow and doesn’t show any signs of bursting.

As more and more coverage focuses on that and their various startups and businesses also in the movements of workers who are going to try to take control of their own workplaces.

I’m hopeful that there might be a recession of it but that it will continue to grow eventually, and that the lessons and perspectives that have been cultivated during this time continue to influence, shape, and maybe dominate the way that people think about businesses, about relations with one another, and about how workplaces should operate.

Colarusso: Great, thank you. With that, we’ll wrap things up. I want to thank Steve, Lauren, Edward, and Hamilton for joining us today. Thank you, the audience, for listening and for the great questions. Please take a moment, if you would, to sign up for our Nieman Reports newsletter. You can find a link pinned above.

Thanks, everyone, and have a great afternoon.

Most popular articles from Nieman Reports