September 23, 2016

Ethan Miller

Superstore Season Two: We’re on Strike

Spoiler Alert: The following post discusses the plot of Superstore season two, episode one.

When season one of NBC’s Superstore ended, we were left wondering what would happen to the Cloud 9 store employees’ nascent strike (ICYMI, our recap is here). After corporate directors fire the store’s bumbling, but benevolent manager, Glen, for giving an employee paid parental leave, most of the people who work at the big-box store walk off the job. And now, six months later, season two opens with the protesting employees trying to assess their next steps.

The first task is to determine what on earth they’re doing. Are they protesting or are they on strike? While Amy and Jonah “agree to disagree” about what to call it, the definition does, in fact, matter. When engaging in a strike or walkout, different laws apply depending on the context. Check out our Strikes 101 factsheet to learn more about these differences.

When the district manager arrives at the store, he sits down with Amy and Jonah to figure out what their demands are. But the aggressive assistant manager, Dina, calls the strikers “terrorists” —especially Amy due to her bright pink negotiation suit. Dina’s terribly silly insult is rooted in real life tactics of unionbusters. Some right-wing organizations, pundits, and politicians have spent years trying to label union members (and countless other social movements activists) as terrorists—to sway public opinion against them.

Superstore may be a fictional comedy, but the show’s writers continue to shine a light to the unsustainable working conditions persistent at most big-box retail stores (paging Walmart and Target). If you recall, the Cloud 9 employees walked off the job in solidarity with their store manager, who was fired after maneuvering to get an employee paid parental leave (a benefit that only 12 percent of private-sector employees in the United States have access to). But throughout the episode, the show continues to call attention to the underlying issues of what’s not working for the people who make Cloud 9 so successful. The strikers ultimately decide to also protest for better health insurance and overtime pay, because as Sandra points out, “we don’t get paid for overtime, even when we work overtime.”

Now, the strike doesn’t go as smoothly as Amy, Jonah, and the rest of the Cloud 9 crew hoped it would. After a miscommunication invites protesters with less than admirable demands to the store, the strikers begin to feel a bit demoralized. We’ll cut the Cloud 9 team some slack for their lack of message discipline and logistical troubles. They’ve never gone on strike before!

Where they did shine is in the protest sign department. They not only rallied together to drum up a sizable number of people to go on strike, they created great visuals to identify their unified demands. We wouldn’t have been surprised to see a Jobs With Justice sign on the picket line!

But when Cloud 9 starts recruiting replacement employees from its other stores, the possibility of losing their jobs for speaking out starts to sink in. The reality is that corporations have the power of labor law on their side to hire permanent replacements and blunt the people power of a strike. In fact, Just Born, Inc., did exactly that last week right after hundreds of men and women who make the beloved marshmallow Peeps went on strike for a fair return on their work.

While the Cloud 9 strikers feel compelled to go back to work at the end of the episode, Jonah and Amy signal that they aren’t giving up the fight so easily. We’re not giving up on Superstore either, and we can’t wait to see how the team at Cloud 9 continues fighting for justice. Hats off to Jonah and Amy for seeing the strike through and staying committed to a longer road of change.

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