Costco responds unexpectedly to one store’s vote to unionize

costco-unions-450x350pxCompetitive salary. Excellent benefits. Great support from management. Collaborative environment. Those are a few of the glowing terms reviewers use to describe Costco on Glassdoor. They are also what help the warehouse club regularly earn a spot in Glassdoor’s annual “Top 100 Places to Work” report.

Why, then, did a group of Costco workers at one of its stores “overwhelmingly” vote to unionize, making it the Teamsters’ first organizing victory at the big-box wholesale retailer in more than 20 years?

Organizers cite employee concerns such as safety, having a voice with management, on-the-job respect, a fair grievance procedure and respect for seniority as the key driving issues behind the union’s campaign and the successful vote. According to Damion Thomas, a front-end cashier at Costco who served on the organizing committee, “This campaign was all about standing together as a group and taking control over our well-being in our workplace.”

How did Costco respond? Did it fire the organizers? Cut their hours? Trash-talk the union and its supporters? How about none of the above? Instead, Costco took ownership for its part in its employees having to look outside the company to be heard.

Costco’s CEO and president sent a letter to all company employees. They expressed that while they are “disappointed by the result” in the union election, their disappointment is not in the company’s employees, but “in ourselves as managers and leaders.” The letter continues, “The fact that a majority of employees felt that they wanted or needed a union constitutes a failure on our part.”

You can read the whole letter on my blog:

If you want to stop a unionizing tide in your business, follow Costco’s example. Its response scores a 10/10 on the union-avoidance scale.

Jon Hyman is a partner at Wickens Herzer Panza in Cleveland and one of America’s top writers and speakers on employment-law topics. Read his popular blog at