It's Been A Good Week And A Bad Week For Organized Labor
A lot of labor stuff is going on this week, so we're doing a round-up!
NLRB Judge Forces Starbucks To Rehire The Workers They Illegally Fired
In December of 2021, a Starbucks in Buffalo, New York, became the very first unionized Starbucks in the United States. Today, barely over a year later, at least 278 Starbucks across the country are unionized. It has not been an especially easy journey, what with all the union-busting Starbucks has been doing along the way.
“I don’t think a union has a place in Starbucks,” interim CEO Howard Schultz told CNN's Poppy Harlow earlier this month. “If a de minimis group of people … file for a petition to be unionized, they have a right to do so. But we as a company have a right also to say, we have a different vision that is better.”
To an extent, my dude, to an extent. You can have that "vision" all you want, but you don't get to impose it on anyone else — or demand that they agree with you that it is "better" when clearly they do not. You don't get to do union-busting and you don't get to fire people for starting a union, because those things are illegal.
This week, a National Labor Relations Board judge determined that Starbucks had engaged in "egregious and widespread misconduct" against employees seeking to unionize in Buffalo and Rochester, New York and ordered them to rehire six employees they fired illegally during the unionizing process. The company is appealing this decision, of course, but it does not seem like it's going to work out all that well for them.
Earlier this month, the NLRB found Starbucks guilty of illegally firing two unionizing workers in Philadelphia and also charged the company with sweeping labor violations against its workers in Memphis.
Again, it does not seem like workers are buying into Shultz's "vision."
Howard Shultz Doesn't Want To Talk About It, Okay?
Unsurprisingly, Howard Shultz has turned down an invitation from Sen. Bernie Sanders, who chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, to have a chat with Congress about why he so loves violating his employees' labor rights. Now, Sen. Sanders is looking into issuing a subpoena for his testimony.
“While Howard Schultz is a multi-billionaire who runs a very profitable multi-national corporation, he must understand that he and his company are not above the law,” Sanders said in a statement. “The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has filed over 75 complaints against Starbuck for violating federal labor law and there have been over 500 unfair labor practice charges lodged against his company. These violations include the illegal firing of more than a dozen Starbucks workers. For nearly a year, I and many of my colleagues in the Senate have repeatedly asked Mr. Schultz to respect the constitutional right of workers at Starbucks to form a union and to stop violating federal labor laws. Mr. Schultz has failed to respond to those requests. He has denied meeting and document requests, skirted congressional oversight attempts, and refused to answer any of the serious questions we have asked. Unfortunately, Mr. Schultz has given us no choice, but to subpoena him. A multi-billion dollar corporation like Starbucks cannot continue to break federal labor law with impunity. The time has come to hold Starbucks and Mr. Schultz accountable.”
Starbucks maintains that it has never ever in its whole life violated a single labor law or done any union-busting, whatever that is, they wouldn't know because of how great they are to their workers.
Alabama Coal Workers Go Back To Work ... And Get Nothing.
If you want to know how bad "Right to Work" is, take a look at the workers from Warrior Met Coal in Alabama. The reported longest strike in Alabama history ends after two years on the picket line with workers going back to work today without getting a single thing they asked for. All they had been asking for was the restoration — once it was profitable again — of the pay and benefits the company had cut when it went into bankruptcy, and Warrior Met Coal just refused to even discuss it with them. For two years, they refused to come to the table. And, for now at least, they've won.
The reason for this is that the company was able to hire a skeleton crew of out-of-state scabs (who got better benefits and pay than the workers had ever gotten, despite their lack of experience) and jack up the price of coal due to "inflation." While the company did lose a certain amount of revenue due to the workers not actually being as good as the union workers who had been doing the job for 20, 30 years, they were able to continue turning a profit due to the increased price of coal.
What this means now, probably, is that the price of coal will remain high for consumers, workers will not be paid enough, and executives and shareholders will reap the benefits. Of course, many experienced coal miners found better paying jobs during the strike and will not be returning.
The negotiations for a new contract will continue, but the workers have a lot less leverage than they ought to.
East Palestine Derailment Continues Making People Sick
Railroad unions are sending in complaints to the federal government alleging that railroad workers who have been brought in by Norfolk Southern to clean up the derailment mess are getting sick from working around the fumes — which is an especially big problem given their infamous lack of sick days.
The American Rail System Federation wrote to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg:
Many of the NS Workers also reported witnessing mechanics replacing cabin filters in and carrying out deep cleaning of the various pieces of heavy machinery that were being used by the outside contractors while they were helping clean up the derailment site. When some of the NS Workers inquired about the appropriateness of their personal protective equipment and the safety of their working conditions, they would receive little or no response from NS officials. One Worker shared with me that he called his supervisor and requested to be transported off the derailment site due to concerns of his safety caused by the exposure to the chemicals which were causing him nausea and migraines; the supervisor stated he would get back to the Employee, but he never heard back from his supervisor and the Employee was left on the job site. Many other Employees reported that they continue to experience migraines and nausea, days after the derailment, and they all suspect that they were willingly exposed to these chemicals at the direction of NS. This lack of concern for the Workers’ safety and well-being is, again, a basic tenet of NS’s cost-cutting business model.
Yeah ... that's not good. On top of that, these workers feel as though Norfolk Southern is manipulating the situation by promising the very sick workers sick leave in exchange for their complicity on automated track inspections, which would reduce the need for human beings (aka workers) to do those inspections. So basically they are saying "Screw your fellow workers and you can take a day off after you get violently ill from doing your job."
Biden Nominated A New Secretary Of Labor And She's Pretty Awesome
President Joe Biden announced on Tuesday that he was nominating Julie Su, the current deputy Secretary of Labor, to be the next regular Secretary of Labor now that Marty Walsh is leaving to drive a Zamboni (okay, fine, head the National Hockey League’s players’ union — they might let him drive the Zamboni though). Su, a longtime advocate for workers rights, will be the first Asian-American Labor Secretary.
I admit I had my heart set on flight attendant union president Sara Nelson, on account of how I love her, but Su is also a great choice — probably the perfect one for this moment in time. She has a background in trafficking and immigrant labor issues while we currently have a serious problem with immigrant child labor, and she has been working on making the gig economy less exploitative for years now, both as California's Labor secretary and before that as a private lawyer.
Also, her nomination seems to have really pissed off the editors of The National Review, who wrote a collective letter whinging about her nomination and also published an op-ed about how she loves unions and therefore hates 89 percent of all workers. This basically works out to be a shining endorsement from someone with actual good opinions on people and labor issues.
Hopefully she'll make it through the nomination process, as these nominations — particularly for the Labor Department — have become a lightning rod for anti-union agitators.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse