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    NLRB Finds Merit in Union Accusations Against Amazon and Starbucks

    In a sign that federal labor officials are closely scrutinizing management behavior during union campaigns, the National Labor Relations Board said Friday that it had found merit in accusations that Amazon and Starbucks had violated labor law.At Amazon, the labor board found merit to charges that the company had required workers to attend anti-union meetings at a vast Staten Island warehouse where the Amazon Labor Union won a stunning election victory last month. The determination was communicated to the union Friday by an attorney for the labor board’s regional office in Brooklyn, according to Seth Goldstein, a lawyer representing the union.Such meetings, often known as “captive audience” meetings, are legal under current labor board precedent. But last month, the board’s general counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, issued a memo saying that the precedent was at odds with the underlying federal statute, and she indicated that she would seek to challenge it.In the same filing of charges, the Amazon Labor Union accused the company of threatening to withhold benefits from employees if they voted to unionize, and of inaccurately indicating to employees that they could be fired if the warehouse were to unionize and they failed to pay union dues. The labor board also found merit to these accusations, according to an email from the attorney at the regional office, Matt Jackson.Mr. Jackson said the agency would soon issue a complaint reflecting those accusations unless Amazon settled the case. The complaint would be litigated before an administrative law judge, whose decision could be appealed to the labor board in Washington.Understand the Unionization Efforts at AmazonBeating Amazon: A homegrown, low-budget push to unionize at a Staten Island warehouse led to a historic labor victory. (Workers at another nearby Amazon facility rejected joining a similar effort shortly after.)Retaliation: Weeks after the landmark win, Amazon fired several managers in Staten Island. Some see it as retaliation for their involvement in the unionization efforts.A New Playbook: The success of the Amazon union’s independent drive has organized labor asking whether it should take more of a back seat.Amazon’s Approach: The company has countered unionization efforts with mandatory “training” sessions that carry clear anti-union messages.Mr. Goldstein applauded Ms. Abruzzo and the regional office for taking “decisive steps ending required captive audience meetings” and said the right to unionize “will be protected by ending Amazon’s inherently coercive work practices.”Kelly Nantel, an Amazon spokeswoman, said in a statement that “these allegations are false and we look forward to showing that through the process.”At Starbucks, where the union has won initial votes at more than 50 stores since December, the labor board issued a complaint Friday over a series of charges the union filed, most of them in February, accusing the company of illegal behavior. Those accusations include firing employees in retaliation for supporting the union; threatening employees’ ability to receive new benefits if they choose to unionize; requiring workers to be available for a minimum number of hours to remain employed at a unionized store without bargaining over the change, as a way to force out at least one union supporter; and effectively promising benefits to workers if they decide not to unionize.In addition to those allegations, the labor board found merit to accusations that the company intimidated workers by closing Buffalo-area stores and engaging in surveillance of workers while they were on the job. All of those actions would be illegal.In a statement, Starbucks Workers United, the branch of the union representing workers there, said that the finding “confirms the extent and depravity of Starbucks’s conduct in Western New York for the better part of a year.” It added: “Starbucks will be held accountable for the union-busting minefield they forced workers to walk through in fighting for their right to organize.”Starbucks said in a statement that the complaint doesn’t constitute a judgment by the labor board, adding, “We believe the allegations contained in the complaint are false, and we look forward to presenting our evidence when the allegations are adjudicated.” More

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    Amazon Fires Senior Managers Tied to Unionized Staten Island Warehouse

    Company officials said the terminations were the result of an internal review, while the fired managers saw it as a response to the recent union victory.After Amazon employees at a massive warehouse on Staten Island scored an upset union victory last month, it turned the union’s leaders into celebrities, sent shock waves through the broader labor movement and prompted politicians around the country to rally behind Amazon workers. Now it also appears to have created fallout within Amazon’s management ranks.On Thursday, Amazon informed more than half a dozen senior managers involved with the Staten Island warehouse that they were being fired, said four current and former employees with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation.The firings, which occurred outside the company’s typical employee review cycle, were seen by the managers and other people who work at the facility as a response to the victory by the Amazon Labor Union, three of the people said. Workers at the warehouse voted by a wide margin to form the first union at the company in the United States, in one of the biggest victories for organized labor in at least a generation.Word of the shake-up spread through the warehouse on Thursday. Many of the managers had been responsible for carrying out the company’s response to the unionization effort. Several were veterans of the company, with more than six years of experience, according to their LinkedIn profiles.Workers who supported the union complained that the company’s health and safety protocols were too lax, particularly as they related to Covid-19 and repetitive strain injuries, and that the company pushed them too hard to meet performance targets, often at the expense of sufficient breaks. Many also said pay at the warehouse, which starts at over $18 per hour for full-time workers, was too low to live on in New York City.Understand the Unionization Efforts at AmazonBeating Amazon: A homegrown, low-budget push to unionize at a Staten Island warehouse led to a historic labor victory. (Workers at another nearby Amazon facility rejected joining a similar effort shortly after.)Retaliation: Weeks after the landmark win, Amazon fired several managers in Staten Island. Some see it as retaliation for their involvement in the unionization efforts.A New Playbook: The success of the Amazon union’s independent drive has organized labor asking whether it should take more of a back seat.Amazon’s Approach: The company has countered unionization efforts with mandatory “training” sessions that carry clear anti-union messages.An Amazon spokeswoman said the company had made the management changes after spending several weeks evaluating aspects of the “operations and leadership” at JFK8, which is the company’s name for the warehouse. “Part of our culture at Amazon is to continually improve, and we believe it’s important to take time to review whether or not we’re doing the best we could be for our team,” said Kelly Nantel, the spokeswoman.The managers were told they were being fired as part of an “organizational change,” two people said. One of the people said some of the managers were strong performers who recently received positive reviews.The Staten Island facility is Amazon’s only fulfillment center in New York City, and for a year current and former workers at the facility organized to form an upstart, independent union. The company is challenging the election, saying that the union’s unconventional tactics were coercive and that the National Labor Relations Board was biased in the union’s favor. And the union is working to maintain the pressure on Amazon so it will negotiate a contract.Christian Smalls, the president of the Amazon Labor Union, testified on Thursday before a Senate committee that was exploring whether companies that violate labor laws should be denied federal contracts. Mr. Smalls later attended a White House meeting with other labor organizers in which he directly asked President Biden to press Amazon to recognize his union.A White House spokeswoman said it was up to the National Labor Relations Board to certify the results of the recent election but affirmed that Mr. Biden had long supported collective bargaining and workers’ rights to unionize.Amazon has said that it invested $300 million on safety projects in 2021 alone and that it provides pay above the minimum wage with solid benefits like health care to full-time workers as soon as they join the company.More than 8,000 workers at the warehouse were eligible to vote, and the union made a point of reaching out to employees from different ethnic groups, including African Americans, Latinos and immigrants from Africa and Asia, as well as those of different political persuasions, from conservatives to progressives.Company officials and consultants held more than 20 mandatory meetings per day with employees in the run-up to the election, in which they sought to persuade workers not to support the union. The officials highlighted the amount of money that the union would collect from them and emphasized the uncertainty of collective bargaining, which they said could leave workers worse off.Labor experts say such claims can be misleading because it is highly unusual for workers to see their compensation fall as a result of the bargaining process.Roughly one month after the union victory at JFK8, Amazon workers at a smaller facility nearby voted against unionizing by a decisive margin.The votes came during what could be an inflection point for organized labor. While the rate of union membership reached its lowest point in decades last year (about 10 percent of U.S. workers) petitions to hold union elections were up more than 50 percent over the previous year during the six months ending in March, according to the National Labor Relations Board. The number of petitions is on pace to reach its highest point in at least a decade.Since December, workers at Starbucks have won initial union votes at more than 50 stores nationwide, while workers have organized or sought to organize at other companies that did not previously have unions, such as Apple and the outdoor apparel retailer REI.Grace Ashford More

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    Biden and Harris meet with labor organizers from Amazon and Starbucks.

    President Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Labor Secretary Martin J. Walsh met Thursday at the White House with several union organizers involved in successful campaigns at companies including Amazon and Starbucks.The meeting was intended to discuss how the recent organizing successes can inspire other workers to join or form a union, according to the White House.Alex Speidel, an employee and union leader at Paizo, a publisher of role-playing games in the Seattle area, said the administration officials “were interested in hearing about how we had been successful — what things we had done to motivate people without the union history in their families, first-time union joiners.”A high-profile White House event focused primarily on rank-and-file union members and grassroots organizers is unusual for a president of either party. But a task force on worker organizing led by Ms. Harris, which officially organized Thursday’s meeting, has met with workers outside the White House on several occasions, and rank-and-file union members have attended White House events under Mr. Biden. There have also been White House meetings with labor leaders and senior labor officials.Christian Smalls, president of the Amazon Labor Union, asked Mr. Biden to press Amazon’s leadership to recognize the union and to begin collective bargaining, and Mr. Biden expressed general support in response, according to Mr. Speidel and another attendee, Jaimie Caldwell, a librarian at the Baltimore County Public Library in Maryland. A White House spokeswoman said it was up to the National Labor Relations Board, an independent agency, to certify unions. She also pointed to earlier remarks by Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, noting that President Biden is a longtime advocate “for collective bargaining, for the rights of workers to organize, and their decision to do exactly that” in the case of Amazon.The meeting comes at a time when union organizers have won several high-profile elections, including more than 50 at Starbucks locations and at the Staten Island warehouse where Mr. Smalls led a unionization effort.In addition to union leaders and workers from Amazon, Starbucks, Paizo and the Baltimore County Public Library, the meeting included workers from the outdoor apparel retailer REI and the animation production company Titmouse.Labor leaders often describe Mr. Biden as the most pro-labor president of their lifetimes, pointing to his replacement of government officials they disliked with those more sympathetic to unions, and to the undoing of Trump-era rules that weakened worker protections.During a high-profile union campaign at Amazon last year, Mr. Biden warned that “there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda,” and he later criticized Kellogg for its plans to permanently replace striking workers during a labor dispute. Both were unusual interjections by a sitting president. More

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    Starbucks Plans Wage Increases That Won’t Apply to Unionized Workers

    Starbucks announced Tuesday that it was raising pay and expanding training at corporate-owned locations in the United States. But it said the changes would not apply to the recently unionized stores, or to stores that may be in the process of unionizing, such as those where workers have filed a petition for a union election.On a call with investors to discuss the company’s quarterly earnings, the chief executive, Howard Schultz, said that the spending would bring investments in workers and stores to nearly $1 billion for the fiscal year and that it would help Starbucks keep up with customer traffic.“The investments will enable us to handle the increased demand — and deliver increased profitability — while also delivering an elevated experience to our customers and reducing strain on our partners,” Mr. Schultz said, using the company’s term for employees.The initiative was announced as the union has won initial votes at more than 50 Starbucks stores, including several this week.The pay increases follow a commitment to raise the company’s minimum hourly wage to $15 this summer and will include a raise of at least 5 percent for employees with two to five years of experience, or an increase to 5 percent above the starting wage rate in their market, whichever is greater.Employees with more than five years’ experience will receive a raise of at least 7 percent, or an increase to 10 percent above the starting wage in their market, whichever is greater.The company will also increase pay for store managers.The plans also call for doubling the training hours that new baristas receive, as well as additional training for existing baristas and shift supervisors.In a formal charge filed with the National Labor Relations Board, the union representing the newly unionized Starbucks workers — Workers United, an affiliate of the Service Employees International Union — has accused the company of coercing employees who were voting in a union election by suggesting that it would withhold new benefits if they unionized.The company said it was legally prohibited from unilaterally imposing wage and benefit increases in stores where employees have unionized or will soon vote on unionization. It noted that it must bargain with a union over any wage or benefit changes.But labor law experts said that it could be illegal to withhold wages and benefits from only unionized employees or employees voting on a union.Matthew Bodie, a former lawyer for the labor board who teaches law at Saint Louis University, said the announced pay increases could unlawfully taint the so-called laboratory conditions that are supposed to prevail during a union election by giving employees an incentive not to unionize.“If Starbucks said, ‘Drop the union campaign and you’ll get this wage increase and better benefits,’ that’d clearly be illegal,” Mr. Bodie said by email. “Hard to see how this is that much different in practice.”Mr. Bodie said the pay increases could also amount to a violation of the company’s obligation to bargain in good faith because they suggest an intention to give unionized employees a worse deal than nonunionized employees. “They’d have to at least offer this package to the union,” Mr. Bodie added.Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesman, did not say whether the company would make the same proposals announced Tuesday in negotiations with unionized workers but said, “Where Starbucks is required to engage in collective bargaining, Starbucks will always negotiate in good faith.”Starbucks also said it planned to post leaflets in stores to keep employees informed, in which the company says that the outcome of collective bargaining is uncertain and risky. “Through collective bargaining, wages, benefits and working conditions may improve, diminish or stay the same,” says one of the informational sheets to be posted in stores.Such messaging is common among employers facing union campaigns, but labor experts say it is misleading because workers are highly unlikely to see their compensation drop as a result of collective bargaining. More

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    Labor board issues complaint against Starbucks in firing of 7 workers.

    The National Labor Relations Board issued a complaint against Starbucks on Friday for what the agency said was the unlawful firing of seven employees in Memphis in retaliation for seeking to unionize.The labor board said the company fired the workers in February because they “joined or assisted the union and engaged in concerted activities, and to discourage employees from engaging in these activities.”The employees are part of a wave of organizing at Starbucks in which workers have voted to unionize at more than 20 stores and filed petitions to hold votes at more than 200. The company has roughly 9,000 corporate-owned locations nationwide.Complaints are issued after a labor board regional office concludes that there is merit to accusations against employers or unions and are litigated before an administrative law judge. The regional office is seeking to require that Starbucks make the fired employees whole — for example, by reimbursing them for lost wages. The company could appeal an adverse decision to the national labor board in Washington.“Although we are excited about the news, we knew from the moment each of us were terminated that this would be the outcome,” Nikki Taylor, one of the fired workers, said in a statement. “We are excited for the public to know the truth and to return to work at our soon-to-be-unionized Starbucks.”Starbucks did not immediately comment but said at the time that it had fired the workers for violating safety and security policies, including allowing members of the media into the store to conduct interviews after hours and failing to wear masks during the encounter. More

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    Atlanta Apple Store Workers Are the First to Formally Seek a Union

    Employees at an Apple store in Atlanta filed a petition on Wednesday to hold a union election. If successful, the workers could form the first union at an Apple retail store in the United States.The move continues a recent trend of service-sector unionization in which unions have won elections at Starbucks, Amazon and REI locations.The workers are hoping to join the Communications Workers of America, which represents workers at companies like AT&T Mobility and Verizon, and has made a concerted push into the tech sector in recent years.The union says that about 100 workers at the store — at Cumberland Mall, in northwest Atlanta — are eligible to vote, including salespeople and repair technicians, and that over 70 percent of them have signed authorization cards indicating their support.In a statement, the union said Apple, like other tech employers, had effectively created a tiered work force that denied retail workers the pay, benefits and respect that workers earned at its corporate offices.Workers said they loved working at Apple but sometimes felt they were treated like second-class employees. “We want equal to what corporate actually gets,” said Sydney Rhodes, an employee at the store who is involved in the union campaign.Ms. Rhodes, who has worked at Apple for four years, said that she and many of her co-workers hoped to continue working for Apple for years to come but that it was often unclear how they could progress within the company. “Another reason why we’re working toward this union is for a more clear and concise way to grow, especially internally,” she added.An Apple spokesman said the company offered strong benefits, including health care coverage, tuition reimbursement and paid family leave, and a minimum pay rate of $20 per hour for retail workers.“We are fortunate to have incredible retail team members, and we deeply value everything they bring to Apple,” the spokesman said, but declined to comment on the union effort. The company would not say whether it would recognize the union voluntarily.Officials at the National Labor Relations Board will next determine whether there is sufficient interest among workers to hold an election — the bar is officially 30 percent — and set the terms for a potential vote. Both the union and the employer will have an opportunity to weigh in on the details, including the universe of employees eligible to take part and whether the vote should occur by mail or in person.Other unions, most notably Workers United, an affiliate of the giant Service Employees International Union that has led the organizing campaign at Starbucks, are also seeking to unionize Apple retail workers, of which there are tens of thousands in the United States.Workers at an Apple Store at Grand Central Terminal in New York City have begun to sign authorization cards that could lead to a filing for a union vote that would allow them to join Workers United. The move was reported over the weekend by The Washington Post.Activism and labor organizing at Apple have been building since last summer, when discontent over the company’s plan to require employees to return to the office snowballed into a broader movement, called #AppleToo. That movement aimed to highlight workplace problems like harassment, unequal pay and what workers described as a culture of secrecy that pervaded the company.“Apple workers across every line of business and around the world are using their voices to demand better treatment,” Janneke Parrish, one of the #AppleToo leaders, said of the union effort. Ms. Parrish has said Apple fired her in retaliation for her organizing. “I’m so happy to see workers taking this big step to stand up for their rights,” she said. Apple has disputed Ms. Parrish’s accusations.The #AppleToo movement included retail workers, who have said throughout the pandemic that Apple did not do enough to keep them safe from the coronavirus.Retail workers’ complaints escalated late last year when the Omicron variant spread rapidly throughout the country and at least 20 Apple stores had to close temporarily as a precaution or because so many of their workers had become infected that the stores could no longer operate. On Christmas Eve, several dozen Apple workers walked off their jobs to demand better pay and working conditions. Ms. Rhodes said that the effort at her store began in earnest last fall, and that her co-workers had taken encouragement from the union campaigns at companies like Starbucks and Amazon.Beyond its overtures at Apple, the communications workers union has had a presence at Google in recent years, helping workers form a so-called solidarity or minority union that enables them to coordinate actions without holding a union election and seeking certification from the labor board. Companies are not required to bargain with minority unions, as they are with more formal unions.The union also recently won a vote to represent about one dozen retail employees at Google Fiber stores in Kansas City, Mo., who are formally employed by a Google contractor. It is seeking to represent a few dozen Wisconsin-based quality assurance workers at the video-game maker Activision Blizzard, which Microsoft is acquiring, pending approval from regulators. More

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    Actors in ‘Waitress’ Tour Seek to Join Labor Union

    Employees of a nonunion production are seeking improved compensation and safety protocols, saying a union version of the same musical pays better.A group of actors and stage managers employed by a nonunion touring production of the musical “Waitress” is seeking union representation, emboldened by a growing focus on working conditions in the theater business and by the labor movement’s recent successes in other industries.Actors’ Equity Association, a labor union representing 51,000 performers and stage managers, said it had collected signatures from more than the 30 percent of workers required to seek an election, and that on Tuesday it had submitted an election petition to the National Labor Relations Board, which conducts such elections.The number of people affected is small — there are 22 actors and stage managers employed by the tour, according to Equity — but the move is significant because it is the first time Equity has tried to organize a nonunion tour since an unsuccessful effort two decades ago to unionize a touring production of “The Music Man.” (The union also sought a boycott of that production.)Union officials said the “Waitress” tour was an obvious place for an organizing campaign because of an unusually clear comparison: There are currently two touring companies of that musical, one of which is represented by the union and one of which is not. The workers in the nonunion tour are being paid about one-third of what the workers in the union company are making, and have lesser safety protections, Equity said. (The minimum union actor salary is $2,244 per week.)“We thought it was not right and not fair, so we approached them to see if they were interested in us representing them,” said Stefanie Frey, the union’s director of organizing and mobilization. Frey said that the productions were so similar that some of the nonunion performers have been asked to teach performers in the union production, and that some have moved from the nonunion production to the union production. “It’s an obvious group of people getting exploited,” she said.Jennifer Ardizzone-West, the chief operating officer at NETworks Presentations, the company that is producing the nonunion “Waitress” tour, declined to offer an immediate reaction, saying, “Until we see the actual filing, it is premature for me to comment.”Tours are an important, and lucrative, part of the Broadway economy. During the 2018-19 theater season — the last full season before the pandemic — unionized touring shows grossed $1.6 billion and were attended by 18.5 million people, according to the Broadway League. Similar statistics are not readily available for nonunion tours, but Frey said, “The nonunion tour world has grown over the last 15 years.”Equity is in the process of hiring two additional organizers as it seeks to expand its efforts, according to a union spokesman, David Levy, who noted recent successful efforts to organize some employees at REI, Starbucks and Amazon. The National Labor Relations Board said last week that the number of union election petitions has been increasing dramatically.Frey said the long pandemic shutdown of theaters had also contributed to a new interest in organizing in the theater industry. “Workers are feeling a little bit more of their power and want to fight for what they deserve in a different way,” she said. More

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    Starbucks Union Campaign Continues Its Momentum

    Starbucks workers have added to the momentum of a union campaign that went public in late August and has upended decades of union-free labor at the company’s corporate-owned stores.On Thursday and Friday, workers at six stores in upstate New York voted to unionize, according to the National Labor Relations Board, bringing the total number of company-owned stores where workers have backed a union to 16. The union, Workers United, was also leading by a wide margin at a store in Kansas whose votes were tallied Friday, but the number of challenged ballots leaves the outcome officially in doubt until their status can be resolved.The union has lost only a single election so far, but it is formally challenging the outcome.Since the union secured its first two victories in elections that concluded in December, workers at more than 175 other stores across at least 25 states have filed for union elections, out of roughly 9,000 corporate-owned stores in the United States. The labor board will count ballots in at least three more stores next week.The organizing success at Starbucks appears to reflect a growing interest among workers in unionizing, including the efforts at Amazon, where workers last week voted to unionize a Staten Island warehouse by a significant margin.On Wednesday, the general counsel of the labor board, Jennifer Abruzzo, announced that union election filings were up more than 50 percent during the previous six months versus the same period one year earlier. Ms. Abruzzo expressed concern that funding and staff shortages were making it difficult for the agency to keep up with the activity, saying in a statement that the board “needs a significant increase of funds to fully effectuate the mission of the agency.”Starbucks has sought to persuade workers not to unionize by holding anti-union meetings with workers and conversations between managers and individual employees, but some employees say the meetings have only galvanized their support for organizing.In some cases, Starbucks has also sent a number of senior officials to stores from out of town, a move the company says is intended to address operational issues like staffing and training but which some union supporters have said they find intimidating.The union has accused Starbucks of seeking to cut back hours nationally as a way to encourage longtime employees to leave the company and replace them with workers who are more skeptical about unionizing. And the union argues that Starbucks has retaliated against workers for supporting the union by disciplining or firing them. Last month, the labor board issued a formal complaint against Starbucks for retaliating against two Arizona employees, a step it takes after finding merit in accusations against employers or unions.The company has denied that it has cut hours to prompt employees to leave, saying it schedules workers in response to customer demand, and it has rejected accusations of anti-union activity.As the union campaign accelerated in March, the company announced that Kevin Johnson, who had served as chief executive since 2017, would be replaced on an interim basis by Howard Schultz, who had led the company twice before and remained one of its largest investors.Some investors who had warned Mr. Johnson that the company’s anti-union tactics could damage its reputation expressed optimism that the leadership change might bring about a shift in Starbucks’s posture toward the union. But the company soon announced that it would not agree to stay neutral in union elections, as the union has requested, dampening those hopes.On Monday, the same day that Mr. Schultz returned as chief executive, the company fired Laila Dalton, one of the two Arizona workers the N.L.R.B. had accused Starbucks of retaliating against in March. The company said that Ms. Dalton had violated company rules by recording co-workers’ conversations without their permission.“A partner’s interest in a union does not exempt them from the standards we have always held,” Reggie Borges, a company spokesman, said in a statement, using the company’s term for an employee. More