As Starbucks Workers Seek a Union, Company Officials Converge on Stores

From today’s New York Times:

During her decade-plus at Starbucks, Michelle Eisen says she has endured her share of workplace stress. She points to the company’s increased use of productivity goals, inadequate attention to training and periods of understaffing or high turnover.

But she had never encountered a change that the company made after workers at her store and two other Buffalo-area locations filed for a union election in late August: two additional “support managers” from out of state, who often work on the floor with the baristas and who, according to Ms. Eisen, have created unease.

“For a lot of newer baristas, it’s an imposing force,” Ms. Eisen said. “It is not an easy job. It should not be complicated further by feeling like you’re having everything you’re doing or saying watched and listened to.”

Workers and organizers involved in the unionization effort say the imported managers are part of a counteroffensive by the company intended to intimidate workers, disrupt normal operations and undermine support for the union.

Starbucks says the additional managers, along with an increase in the number of workers in stores and the arrival of a top corporate executive from out of town, are standard company practices. It says the changes, which also include temporarily shutting down stores in the area, are intended to help improve training and staffing — longstanding issues — and that they are a response not to the union campaign but to input the company solicited from employees.

“The listening sessions led to requests from partners that resulted in those actions,” said Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman. “It’s not a decision where our leadership came in and said, ‘We’re going to do this and this.’ We listened, heard their concerns.”

None of the nearly 9,000 corporate-owned Starbucks locations in the country are unionized. The prospect that workers there could form a union appears to reflect a recent increase in labor activism nationwide, including strikes across a variety of industries.

Read the complete story here.

Unionization Efforts by Amazon Workers Dealt a Blow After Alabama Vote

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Amazon workers at a giant Alabama warehouse have voted against unionizing, a significant blow to a months-long campaign that pitted union activists against one of the nation’s most powerful employers and briefly appeared poised to reenergize the American labor movement.

Workers cast 1,798 votes against joining the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which led the effort to unionize employees at the facility in Bessemer, Ala., while 738 workers voted to join the union, according to a vote result Friday overseen by the National Labor Relations Board.

Some 5,876 warehouse workers were eligible to cast ballots by mail-in vote starting in February.

The result came after a days-long count that was announced online via livestream, and after nearly a week in which the labor board reviewed and certified, behind closed doors, all cast ballots. There were 505 contested ballots set aside during this process and not included in the final tally. The union said the majority were contested by Amazon. The labor board determined there weren’t enough contested ballots to affect the election result.

It was the closest Amazon workers anywhere in the U.S. had come to a union, unusually in a right-to-work state with enduring Deep South history. In Bessemer, worker concerns over the company’s handling of COVID-19 workplace safety converged with the racial equity movement to set in motion one of the most closely watched American union drives in recent history.

The RWDSU said it intended to challenge the result, which it characterized as the result of intimidation and unfair practices by Amazon during the campaign. Amazon on Friday disputed union messaging that it had unfairly influenced the vote, and thanked the Bessemer workers for participating in the vote.

The chasm reflected the dual reality that many Amazon workers say they navigate: On the one hand, earning higher than minimum wage, with benefits, at one of the world’s most influential companies at a precarious time for the economy and jobs. And on the other hand, enduring the exacting control and pace of work in warehouses that Amazon has come to be known for, to meet the quick delivery goals customers have come to expect — all as consumer demand boomed during the pandemic.

Read the complete article here.

Tesla and Elon Musk Appeal NLRB Ruling about Union Activities

From today’s Detroit Bureau:

Tesla CEO Elon Musk wants his day in court, and the EV maker’s filed a petition to get it, appealing a recent ruling by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board that he’s violated U.S. labor law.

As part of the NLRB’s ruling, Tesla and Musk were required to perform several actions, not the least of which is a mandate that Musk take down a now nearly three-old tweet suggesting that if Tesla employees joined a union they could lose stock compensation.

The electric car maker filed a petition on April 2 with the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals to review the NLRB’s decision and order issued on March 25.

The NLRB ruling stated that Tesla violated federal labor law when it fired a union supporter and moved to block a union organizing drive at its plant in Fremont, California.

In addition, the NLRB found Tesla and the company’s freewheeling CEO, Elon Musk, violated the law and ordered them to stop interfering with workers seeking to organize a union at the Fremont plant, handing a victory to the United Auto Workers (UAW). The ruling on union activity by employees also extends to any other installation operated by Tesla in the U.S.

The dispute between Tesla and the UAW has been ongoing. The union began an organizing effort at Tesla more than five years ago and filed the unfair labor charges against the company in 2017 after security guards seized union literature and one of the leaders of the UAW effort inside Tesla was dismissed.

Tesla is disputing the NLRB’s ruling and asked the court to review the order and grant Tesla “any further relief which the Court deems just and equitable.” Tesla’s Musk has long disputed that his company is against union organizing.

In a 2018 tweet, Musk wrote: “Nothing stopping Tesla team at our car plant from voting union. Could do so tmrw if they wanted. But why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing? Our safety record is 2X better than when plant was UAW & everybody already gets healthcare.”

The NLRB ruling ordered Musk to delete that three-year-old tweet warning employees they could lose their stock options if they opted to join the United Auto Workers, which had begun an organizing drive in Fremont. Compensation, including stock options, are subjects of contract negotiations under federal labor law.

The NLRB ordered Tesla to offer one of the former employees reinstatement. The company was also directed to rescind rules established in 2017 that prohibit the distribution of union literature in its parking lot on non-work time.

Read the complete article here.

The Unionization Vote at Amazon

From today’s New York Times:

The most closely watched union election in recent history is underway in Alabama, where almost 6,000 workers at an Amazon warehouse near Birmingham are voting on whether they want to form a union. The election has attracted attention from President Biden, N.F.L. players and Hollywood actors, making it a high-stakes test of whether a union has a role in one of the country’s biggest employers.

The unionization effort, which began last summer, is the largest and most viable organizing campaign among Amazon workers in the United States. Here is what you need to know about it.

The unionization push came from a group of largely Black workers at the Amazon fulfillment center in Bessemer, Ala., which is just outside Birmingham. Late last summer, they approached a local branch of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which has grown in the South, particularly in poultry, an industry with traditionally dangerous jobs and many Black employees.

The union deployed organizers who worked at nearby warehouses and poultry farms to focus full time on talking to workers at the Amazon warehouse. By late December, more than 2,000 workers signed cards indicating they wanted an election, the union said. The National Labor Relations Board determined that those signatures signaled “sufficient” interest in holding a vote.

Two big forces have helped drive the unionization effort: the pandemic’s focus on essential workers and the racial reckoning brought on by Black Lives Matter protests.

Amazon opened the Bessemer warehouse in March 2020, just as the coronavirus was taking hold in America. The pandemic made clear the critical role essential workers, many of whom were Black and paid hourly, played in serving customers and the economy broadly. Amazon had extraordinary growth last year, as people turned to online shopping instead of venturing into stores. It went on a huge hiring spree, ending the year with 1.3 million employees and $386 billion in sales.

In early summer, George Floyd’s killing prompted calls for racial justice, and the union has focused its organizing on issues of racial equality and empowerment. It has a decades-long history of working on civil rights and labor issues in the region. Around the same time, Amazon ended the extra pay it had given workers earlier in the pandemic. The workers who started the organizing said their pay was not commensurate with the risks they took and the productivity they must maintain.

Read the complete article here.

Missouri voters blocked the state’s ‘right-to-work’ law in perhaps the biggest electoral stunner of the night

From today’s Business Insider:

Missouri voters on Tuesday struck down a right-to-work law by a resounding margin, representing a huge victory to the organized labor movement and a decisive blow to the agenda of the state’s majority-Republican legislature.

In 2017, Missouri Republicans passed legislation to ban compulsory union fees for workers who choose not to join, which would’ve severely limited the influence of the organized labor movement.

Former Gov. Eric Greitens signed the bill into law, but union organizers started a petition to stall its implementation, ultimately gathering enough signatures for the law to be put on hold pending a statewide referendum.

In the end, on Proposition A, roughly 67% voted against the keeping the law, while 33% voted in favor of it.

Supporters of right-to-work laws say workers shouldn’t be forced to join unions and pay membership fees. But opponents contend these fees are necessary to protect worker’s rights, especially given that federal law requires unions to represent all employees — even those who opt out of joining unions.

The Supreme Court in June ruled unions could not require public-sector employees to pay such fees. Twenty-seven states have laws permitting workers in unionized settings to choose not to join and pay membership fees.

Read the complete article here.

Supreme Court delivers blow to organized labor in fees dispute

From Reuter’s News Service:

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday dealt a big blow to organized labor, ruling that non-members cannot be forced in certain states to pay fees to unions representing public employees such as teachers and police, shutting off a key union revenue source.

The 5-4 ruling overturned a 1977 Supreme Court precedent that had permitted these so-called agency fees, which have been collected from millions of workers who opt not to join unions in lieu of union dues to fund non-political activities such as collective bargaining. The court’s conservative justices were in the majority, with the liberal justices dissenting.

Forcing non-members to pay these fees to unions whose views they may oppose violates their rights to free speech and free association under the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, the court said in the ruling authored by Justice Samuel Alito.

“States and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from non-consenting employees,” Alito wrote. In a dissent, Justice Elena Kagan accused the court’s conservatives of “weaponizing the First Amendment” to intervene in economic and regulatory policy.

“This case was nothing more than a blatant political attack to further rig our economy and democracy against everyday Americans in favor of the wealthy and powerful,” public-sector unions including the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union directly involved in the case, said in a statement.

Two dozen states had required agency fees. The ruling means that the estimated 5 million non-union workers for state and local governments who have paid them can stop. Agency fees do not involve federal or private-sector employees.

The decision represented a major victory for conservative activists who long have sought to curb the influence of public-sector unions, which often support the Democratic Party and liberal causes.

With the U.S. organized labor movement already in a diminished state compared to past decades, the ruling now deprives unions of a vital revenue stream, undercuts their ability to attract new members and retain current members, and undermines their ability to spend in political races.

Republican President Donald Trump, whose administration backed the challenge to the fees, welcomed the ruling, writing on Twitter, “Big loss for the coffers of the Democrats!”

Read the complete article here.

Deadline Is Today in McDonald’s Labor Case That Could Affect Millions

From today’s New York Times:

The Trump appointee charged with enforcing federal labor rights is scrambling to head off a court ruling in a case against McDonald’s that could redefine the accountability of companies for the labor practices of their franchisees.

The official, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, has been exploring settlement terms with workers at the center of the board’s complaint against McDonald’s, according to lawyers involved in the case. A judge had halted the trial until Monday to give the agency a chance to do so.

If no settlement is reached and the judge were to rule against the company, the decision could have enormous implications for the franchise business model, affecting millions of workers in the fast-food industry and beyond. Corporations could be required to bargain with unionized workers at disparate franchise locations.

The National Labor Relations Board did not respond to a request for comment. A McDonald’s spokeswoman said that “settlement discussions are a normal part of any litigation process.”

The case was brought during the Obama administration, when the board was under Democratic control. Since President Trump’s election, Republican members have regained a majority, steering the board away from a pro-labor orientation.

Read the complete article here.

N.L.R.B. Ruling Holds McDonald’s, Not Just Franchisees, Liable for Worker Treatment

From today’s NYT by Steven Greenhouse:

The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled on Tuesday that McDonald’s is jointly responsible for workers at its franchisees’ restaurants, a decision that if upheld would disrupt longtime practices in the fast-food industry and ease the way for unionizing nationwide.

Richard F. Griffin Jr., the labor board’s general counsel, said that of the 181 unfair labor practice complaints filed against McDonald’s and its franchisees over the last 20 months, he found that 43 had merit on such grounds as illegally firing or threatening workers for pro-union activities.

In those cases, Mr. Griffin said he would include McDonald’s as a joint employer, a classification that could hold the fast-food company responsible for actions taken at thousands of its restaurants. Roughly 90 percent of the chain’s restaurants in the United States are franchise operations.

McDonald’s said it would contest the decision, warning that the ruling would affect not only the fast-food industry but businesses like dry cleaners and car dealerships.

Read the entire article here.

MI workers resist “right-to-work” law

Michigan lawmakers began debate today on controversial “right to work” legislation that would forbid requiring workers to pay union dues. The legislation is expected to pass despite widespread protests in and around the state capital. If it passes MI will be  the 24th state with such laws that limit union participation as a condition of employment.

Two years ago Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker proposed other controversial legislation limiting the bargaining power of public employee unions as a cost-cutting measure. The measure passed despite opposition from both unions and the public, but Walker was punished for it in a brutal recall election he barely survived. Similar legislation failed to pass in Ohio a year later as anti-union sentiment continues to thrive in a difficult economic climate.

So-called “right to work” legislation is anything but employment guarantees and workplace protections. In fact, by diluting the power of unions to maintain “closed shops” with employers, such legislation actually diminishes the individual and collective voice rights in labor contracts, making it easier for employers to pay weak wages, provide little benefits, and terminate employees on demand.

The recent movement to pass “right to work” laws has been backed by corporate and industry lobbying efforts in conjunction with the Republican Party and groups such as the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation. The wisdom of such legislation is questionable in the long run as the wages of American workers continue to decline and the cost of employment benefits are increasingly placed on the shoulders of employees. In the short term support for this misnamed legislation has received a boost from calls for austerity against big government. However, it isn’t big government spending that is to blame for the sluggish economic recovery, but declining revenues tied to a tax base that has significantly shrunk in the wake of the recession.

Once again it appears that workers with good paying jobs will pay the price of corporate and political corruption, and unfortunately many Americans are helping to destroy these jobs by backing right-wing policies against workers‘ rights.

NYC fast food workers stage walk out, fighting for rights to unionize

Dozens of fast food workers at some of the country’s largest chains, including McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Domino’s, walked off the job today in a coordinated campaign to highlight low wages and encourage unionization. The campaign is backed by community groups, civil rights groups, religious leaders, and a labor union, the Service Employees International Union.

Workers are protesting what they said are low wages and retaliation against those workers who have backed unionization among the thousands of fast food worker in New York City. Coordinators claim this is the first multi-restaurant strike by fast food workers in American history, and promised further action as unions make in-roads into the traditionally anti-union fast food industry.

Over the decades there have been efforts to unionize single fast-food restaurants or chains, but there has never before been an effort to unionize multiple restaurants at one time. The new campaign states advocates raising low wages and reducing the disparities of income inequality.

CUNY sociology professor Ruth Milkman said, “These jobs have extremely high turnover, so by the time you get around to organizing folks, they’re not on the job anymore.”