The Union-Busting Crime Wave at Starbucks and Amazon Is Getting Worse

The two most notable union actions in the United States are currently undergoing an onslaught of union breakdown, some of which are illegal. Starbucks has retaliated against union organizers in stores across the country, firing employees and otherwise working to isolate, demoralize and defeat the baristas determined to unite the company’s 8,900 U.S. corporate stores.

A similar dynamic is unfolding at Amazon. At JFK8, Amazon’s first fulfillment center to become a union, the company fired two Amazon Labor Union (ALU) organizers, Tristan Dutchin and Mat Cusick. Amazon says Dutchin was fired over productivity quota backlog, while Cusick has received mixed messages about his termination — ALU’s communications leader was on COVID-related leave when he was fired for “voluntary resignation for leaving his job,” as vice reports.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has now found merit in allegations made by employees of both companies that their dismissal is a violation of labor law. On May 10, the NLRB filed a preliminary injunction for seven Starbucks employees in Memphis, Tennessee, known as the Memphis Seven, who were fired shortly after announcing their union campaign. On May 11, the board filed a complaint against Starbucks over the firing of several workers in Overland Park, Kansas, in the week leading up to their store’s union elections. These complaints follow a previous case that resulted in the first NLRB complaint against Starbucks during the current Starbucks Workers United (SWU) organization. That complaint concerns Laila Dalton, who fired Starbucks on April 4, just weeks after the NLRB substantiated its complaint about previous reprisals.

As for Amazon, the NLRB has sued the company over the firing of JFK8 employee Gerald Bryson. That termination came two years ago, shortly after he took part in a protest against the company’s inadequate COVID-19 precautions. Chris Smalls, the president of ALU, was also fired after the protest, prompting him to launch the historic union action. Meanwhile, Bryson has been fighting for recovery ever since — after a judge ruled on April 18 that Amazon must recover Bryson and pay lost wages, the company vowed to appeal the decision.

The board previously found merit in allegations by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) that Amazon interfered with the “laboratory conditions” required during a union election in the case of the fulfillment center in Bessemer, Alabama. That finding sparked the repeat of the union vote that ended last month. While Amazon has seen a significant increase in votes so far, the result cannot be determined until the board of directors has passed the 416 contested ballots. A date for such a count has yet to be determined.

If this all sounds like a lot to keep track of, it’s because it is. The NLRB’s complaint against Starbucks accuses the company of twenty-nine unfair labor practices (ULP) charges, including more than 200 violations of the National Labor Relations Act. In all, SWU has filed more than 120 ULP charges against the company across 19 states (Starbucks, in turn, has filed two charges against SWU for alleged harassment). At Amazon, the ALU has filed dozens of ULP charges over Amazon’s conduct at JFK8 and LDJ5, the Staten Island sorting center where Amazon just defeated a unionization attempt. The organization of employees at these two companies, as well as an emerging rise elsewhere, has led the board to see ULP costs rise 14 percent in the first six months of fiscal year 2022 (October 1 to March 31) compared to year-on-year, as well as a 57 percent increase in union filings.

The NLRB is more pro-worker than it has been in nearly a century, assisted by general counsel Jennifer Abruzzo, who is determined to lead the board to carry out its duty to enforce existing labor laws. But it remains drastically underfunded and understaffed: The board’s budget has remained the same for nine years, representing a 25 percent cut, and the overall workforce has fallen 30 percent since 2010. While Joe Biden has asked Congress for $319 million for the NLRB by 2023, which would be a 16 percent increase, a group of 149 House Democrats is asking for $368 million in funding, which is a 34 percent increase. .

If the NLRB is to have any hope of keeping up with the increased activity of the labor movement, it must have such funding, and the increased staffing that ensues. That’s the means of enforcing potential imminent rulings that deem gatherings with captive publics illegal, as well as going head-to-head with workers at Amazon and Starbucks, not to mention workers at smaller companies. .

Speaking to a panel in New York City on Tuesday night, Jaz Brisack, a Starbucks organizer in Buffalo, New York, noted that even the proactive NLRB could do more. A particularly pressing issue is employers’ participation in proposed negotiating units. A Trump-era board ruling currently allows employers to have more leverage in determining an appropriate negotiating unit, a tool both companies have used. Starbucks is challenging stores as they file on the issue of suitable bargaining units, significantly slowing down the union process in hopes of defeating workers nationwide momentum.

There is so much work to do, and little time to do it. The labor market is unlikely to remain this tight for much longer, and no one can count on the NLRB’s continued commitment to law enforcement for the long term. Starbucks continues to openly violate labor laws – see the latest caustic move of promising benefits only for non-union stores. And Amazon is gearing up to fire more union leaders — not just Dutchin and Cusick at JFK8 but Ezra Hudson at Bessemer (and unionists are rumored to be getting final written warnings and suspensions at other facilities). Such a crime wave amounts to open warfare against workers.

“We’re getting a first contract,” Smalls said in the panel with Brisack on Tuesday evening. “I may not know how or when, but we will get it.” He and his colleagues at Amazon and Starbucks are going up against companies that will do anything to break that determination and momentum. There is always a class war, but these campaigns are a much anticipated attack by the working class, and it will be a blow to all of us if they fail.

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