Labor Organizing and Pushing Back Against Union Busting!

by Deni and Deeg

Starbucks workers organizing in Buffalo NY have voted to unionize!  It was a clear victory at the Elmwood Ave location for employees supporting Workers United (an SEIU American/Canadian affiliate). Workers didn’t win two other Buffalo Starbucks site elections, but the union is contesting Starbuck’s unfair practices. Among Starbuck’s tactics in Buffalo was the temporary closing two of the stores after the workers had filed their intent to unionize with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz personally went to Buffalo to convince workers to vote against the union. Twenty area stores were shut down so that workers could attend the meeting.

photo of union organizers

Speaking of threats to close if workers unionize, a regional office of the NLRB ruled in favor of Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama and ordered a new union election at the warehouse there. This decision supported the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s challenge to the March election when the Union was defeated. The Union argued that Amazon had undermined conditions for a fair election by having the Postal Service put a special mailbox right outside the warehouse and within view of security cameras, which made it hard for workers to vote freely. Amazon said it put the box there to help workers. How do you spell intimidation and union busting? Amazon!! Better watch out Amazon, labor is coming at you from all sides. In early November, the Teamsters elected a new president who ran partly on a strong commitment to unionize Amazon.

Starbucks and Amazon are only two examples of how the laws originally written to normalize the processes of “collective bargaining”, and avoid more direct actions like the sit-down strikes in auto manufacturing in the 1930s, now make it almost impossible to organize unions. Since 2017, polls have regularly found that close to half of all non-union workers would choose to join a union. So how is it that in 2020, only 6.3 percent of workers in the private sector, and only 10.8 percent of all workers were in unions. (Both numbers reflect a slight increase over the previous year.)   

As it is currently written and implemented, the national labor relations act, creates a series of obstacles to organizing unions. To start the NLRB process, 30 percent of the workforce have to sign cards indicating their interest in a union, and submit them to the NLRB. This may have to be done with little to no support from the union they are seeking to join, and the people collecting signatures are often easily identified and fired. Firing workers for organizing is an “unfair labor practice” so organizers are typically fired for “absenteeism”, or “misconduct.” Starbucks has hired the infamous Littler Mendelson (some nickname it “hitler”), which has playbooks for their client companies to fight unions that includes many of the tactics used in Buffalo. A firing can be appealed to the NLRB but hearings can take months to years to reach decisions, which can be appealed by the employer and further delay the process of reinstating workers.

The law does not require an election, the employer can choose to recognize the union without one. But most often the employer does not, and the NLRB reviews the submitted signatures, and decides when to order an election. During this process, employers generally try to manipulate which workers will be included in the election, by defining the “bargaining unit”. After the election is scheduled, there is a pre-election period in which the employer is not legally allowed to intimidate workers, including asking them how they are going to vote. Another finding in the Bessemer, Alabama case is that the Amazon engaged illegal “polling”, including by pushing workers to select NO buttons at workplace meetings organized to explain to workers the “disadvantages” of joining the union. It’s likely that this election was swayed by a fear spread throughout the city that Amazon would close the warehouse if they voted for the union. In the case of Amazon and Starbucks, the unions strongly backed the organizing efforts. But many workers, including people in LAGAI, who have approached unions to try to organize in their workplaces have been met with indifference from the union staff, or presented with a set of nearly impossible conditions that they would have to meet before the union would get involved.

Back to the good news. On November 17, John Deere workers ratified a contract by a 61 percent vote, ending a strike that lasted almost 5 weeks, sustained by over 10,000 workers at 14 locations. The United Auto Workers (UAW) won a six-year contract that included a 10 percent raise and $8500 signing bonus, and additional raises in 2023 and 2025. They successfully defeated the company’s proposal to reduce or eliminate pensions for new workers.

Meanwhile, Kellogg workers, represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, have been on strike since October 5. The main issues are the company’s proposed two-tier wages and benefits structure. The workers turned down a tentative settlement and will keep up the strike. So the good news here is the fighting spirit of the workers and their determination to get a just win for all people who will work in the plants, including newer hires. The company recently said it will permanently replace the striking workers. Scab cereal? Who’s gonna eat that or feed it to their kids? We don’t think so!

Author: lagai

LAGAI-Queer Insurrection is one of the oldest radical queer liberation groups in the U.S. We publish UltraViolet, a more or less bimonthly newspaper, which is mailed free of charge to over 1500 people, including over 800 prisoners. Our website is www.lagai.org.

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