Labor law piles up cards against organizers despite union wins at Starbucks, Amazon and Apple

In recent history, the triumphs of these unions have been the exception rather than the rule, and American labor law remains employer-friendly.

A CNN analysis of data from the National Labor Relations Commission, which oversees the organization of votes at most U.S. businesses, found that 826 union elections were held between January and July this year, and the 2021 A 45% increase from the number done during the same period. And the union’s 70% success rate on those ballots is far better than his 42% success rate in the first seven months of 2021.

However, only 41,000 potential union members were eligible to vote in the 2022 elections. Even if unions got all those votes — NLRB data doesn’t analyze how many workers were working at each company with voting rights — an estimated 100 million U.S. companies with no affiliation Among 5 million workers, it’s going to be a bucket drop. to the union, according to Labor Department statistics.

A campaign by grassroots Starbucks Workers United is a big reason for the surge in organizing.

Nearly 300 Starbucks locations have voted so far this year, and although some results are still pending, the union won nearly 200 locations with certified results, or 85% of the votes.

There were other high-profile victories. In April, Amazon’s fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York, First place in company history vote for the union. In another historic first, workers at an Apple store in Maryland voted to unionize in his June. and just last month, Chipolte, Michigan opted to form a union with the Teamsters.
More votes are pending, including another Apple Store in Oklahoma City and another Apple Store. Amazon facility in suburban Albany, New York. Elections are set at dozens more Starbucks stores.

But these giants aren’t ignoring union efforts. In some cases, businesses closed the location rather than addressing their organizing efforts.

it happened at some point Maine Chipotle and Number of Starbucks storesBoth companies claim the decision was not retaliation.
Chipolte said it could not find the employees it needed to keep its Maine stores open, and Starbucks said: closed It was part of a broader plan to downsize stores nationwide due to safety concerns.

The union said last month that eight of the 19 stores scheduled to close had voted for the union, applied for a vote or started organizing. .

Few penalties for anti-union behavior

“Employers have the upper hand,” said Todd Vachon, a professor of industrial relations at Rutgers University. “It’s very difficult to prove that’s why it’s closed. The penalty isn’t even a slap on the wrist, just a wave of the finger.”

Companies also have little fear of firing employees involved in organizing efforts, labor experts say.

At best, if the NLRB convinces a judge that the company is guilty of wrongdoing, they will have to pay the employee a refund plus a pittance of interest. It can be reduced by money earned elsewhere while awaiting trial.

“The penalties are surprisingly low,” said Alexander Colvin, dean of Cornell University’s Labor Relations Department.

Starbucks in Memphis in February laid off 7 employees, including five of the six members of the Union Organizing Committee. The employee and his NLRB said the grounds for dismissal, given to support local TV news coverage of the organizing effort, were in violation of company rules.

It took the NLRB six months to win a federal court decision that an employee was dismissed for union activity. Starbucks has denied wrongdoing and is appealing the lawsuit, which prevents employees from returning to work.

Navretta Hardin, a 23-year-old barista who has worked at the Memphis store since December 2020 and is one of seven people who have been laid off, said: “When I heard about the first layoffs, I was shocked at first. “I actually got fired at the end, so I was prepared. At first, I was kind of sad and angry. I’m a great worker. I’ve never had trouble with management.” Never, and never caused any trouble.”

Hardin now works at a local coffee shop, where she says she gets better pay than Starbucks. She said she wasn’t surprised Starbucks continued to file lawsuits.

“They know they’ve obviously lost, but they’re dragging it out,” she said. “For a company the size of Starbucks, it’s like a slap on the wrist.”

The union won the vote in Memphis in June. However, no other store in the city has applied to hold the election. Hardin believes the effects of the shooting on the union movement there were mixed.

“When we were fired, we felt it would dampen the campaign,” she said. increase”

Overall, the NLRB filed over 19 of the 81 unfair labor practices complaints filed by Starbucks Workers United. We are processing hundreds more.

Starbucks said the Labor Commission worked with the unions to support organizing efforts, a claim denied by the similar to Complaints by Amazon As for the votes lost in Staten Island, this week Lost in first round In that case, another office of the NLRB rejected all of the claims and recommended there to prove the union winning.

The Next Big Thing in Negotiating Contracts

So far, Starbucks has not negotiated a single deal with any stores that have voted to unionize. After a successful union vote, it usually takes a year or more to win the first contract. Cornell University’s Colvin said there were virtually no penalties for employers who didn’t sign union contracts.

“That’s the next big question. Will they be able to win the contract?” he said. “If you don’t start getting deals, you can’t keep the momentum going.”

The AFL-CIO, the largest union federation in the United States, is calling for labor law changes to put an end to the penalties the NLRB can impose on management, and the newly formed company will enter into negotiations. If you refuse, we request arbitration. Union. Given the current political climate in Washington, however, it seems unlikely that the AFL-CIO will be able to pass its top priorities in the short term, with Republicans united in the opposition. Senate.

“I’m not saying this is going to be easy,” said Fred Redmond, trade union federation’s treasurer. “We’re not giving up on it… laws that basically level the playing field so workers don’t have to face retribution or abuse.”

Union is more popular

Trade unions are growing in popularity among the general public, especially among young workers like Hardin. A Gallup poll last week found that 71% of Americans support unions, his highest approval rating since 1965.

Enthusiasm, however, was low when non-unionized workers were asked to rank their level of interest in joining a union. On a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 was very interested and 1 not at all, only 20% of them said 5 or 4. Nearly two-thirds said 1 or 2.

This reluctance, combined with weak penalties for employers, is the main reason union membership has been steadily declining for decades.

According to Labor Department data, union membership among private sector employees has fallen from 16.8% in 1983 to just 6.1%. And while union member representation is still common in some sectors such as airlines, manufacturing and healthcare, it is much lower in the retail sector. This makes him one of the busiest segments of the US economy. Only 4.4% of the 14 million retail workers are union members.


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