point out flaws — understaffing, insufficient training, low seniority pay, all of which they want to improve — they embrace Starbucks and its distinctive culture.

They talk up their sense of camaraderie and community — many count regular customers among their friends — and delight in their coffee expertise. On mornings when Ms. Brisack’s store isn’t busy, employees often hold tastings.

A Starbucks spokesman said that Mr. Schultz believes employees don’t need a union if they have faith in him and his motives, and the company has said that seniority-based pay increases will take effect this summer.

onetime auto plant. The National Labor Relations Board was counting ballots for an election at a Starbucks in Mesa, Ariz. — the first real test of whether the campaign was taking root nationally, and not just in a union stronghold like New York. The room was tense as the first results trickled in.

“Can you feel my heart beating?” Ms. Moore asked her colleagues.

win in a rout — the final count was 25 to 3. Everyone turned slightly punchy, as if they had all suddenly entered a dream world where unions were far more popular than they had ever imagined. One of the lawyers let out an expletive before musing, “Whoever organized down there …”

union campaign he was involved with at a nearby Nissan plant. It did not go well. The union accused the company of running a racially divisive campaign, and Ms. Brisack was disillusioned by the loss.

“Nissan never paid a consequence for what it did,” she said. (In response to charges of “scare tactics,” the company said at the time that it had sought to provide information to workers and clear up misperceptions.)

Mr. Dolan noticed that she was becoming jaded about mainstream politics. “There were times between her sophomore and junior year when I’d steer her toward something and she’d say, ‘Oh, they’re way too conservative.’ I’d send her a New York Times article and she’d say, ‘Neoliberalism is dead.’”

In England, where she arrived during the fall of 2019 at age 22, Ms. Brisack was a regular at a “solidarity” film club that screened movies about labor struggles worldwide, and wore a sweatshirt that featured a head shot of Karl Marx. She liberally reinterpreted the term “black tie” at an annual Rhodes dinner, wearing a black dress-coat over a black antifa T-shirt.

climate technology start-up, lamented that workers had too little leverage. “Labor unions may be the most effective way of implementing change going forward for a lot of people, including myself,” he told me. “I might find myself in labor organizing work.”

This is not what talking to Rhodes scholars used to sound like. At least not in my experience.

I was a Rhodes scholar in 1998, when centrist politicians like Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were ascendant, and before “neoliberalism” became such a dirty word. Though we were dimly aware of a time, decades earlier, when radicalism and pro-labor views were more common among American elites — and when, not coincidentally, the U.S. labor movement was much more powerful — those views were far less in evidence by the time I got to Oxford.

Some of my classmates were interested in issues like race and poverty, as they reminded me in interviews for this article. A few had nuanced views of labor — they had worked a blue-collar job, or had parents who belonged to a union, or had studied their Marx. Still, most of my classmates would have regarded people who talked at length about unions and class the way they would have regarded religious fundamentalists: probably earnest but slightly preachy, and clearly stuck in the past.

Kris Abrams, one of the few U.S. Rhodes Scholars in our cohort who thought a lot about the working class and labor organizing, told me recently that she felt isolated at Oxford, at least among other Americans. “Honestly, I didn’t feel like there was much room for discussion,” Ms. Abrams said.

typically minor and long in coming.

has issued complaints finding merit in such accusations. Yet the union continues to win elections — over 80 percent of the more than 175 votes in which the board has declared a winner. (Starbucks denies that it has broken the law, and a federal judge recently rejected a request to reinstate pro-union workers whom the labor board said Starbucks had forced out illegally.)

Twitter was: “We appreciate TIME magazine’s coverage of our union campaign. TIME should make sure they’re giving the same union rights and protections that we’re fighting for to the amazing journalists, photographers, and staff who make this coverage possible!”

The tweet reminded me of a story that Mr. Dolan, her scholarship adviser, had told about a reception that the University of Mississippi held in her honor in 2018. Ms. Brisack had just won a Truman scholarship, another prestigious award. She took the opportunity to urge the university’s chancellor to remove a Confederate monument from campus. The chancellor looked pained, according to several attendees.

“My boss was like, ‘Wow, you couldn’t have talked her out of doing that?’” Mr. Dolan said. “I was like, ‘That’s what made her win. If she wasn’t that person, you all wouldn’t have a Truman now.’”

(Mr. Dolan’s boss at the time did not recall this conversation, and the former chancellor did not recall any drama at the event.)

The challenge for Ms. Brisack and her colleagues is that while younger people, even younger elites, are increasingly pro-union, the shift has not yet reached many of the country’s most powerful leaders. Or, more to the point, the shift has not yet reached Mr. Schultz, the 68-year-old now in his third tour as Starbucks’s chief executive.

She recently spoke at an Aspen Institute panel on workers’ rights. She has even mused about using her Rhodes connections to make a personal appeal to Mr. Schultz, something that Mr. Bensinger has pooh-poohed but that other organizers believe she just may pull off.

“Richard has been making fun of me for thinking of asking one of the Rhodes people to broker a meeting with Howard Schultz,” Ms. Brisack said in February.

“I’m sure if you met Howard Schultz, he’d be like, ‘She’s so nice,’” responded Ms. Moore, her co-worker. “He’d be like, ‘I get it. I would want to be in a union with you, too.’”

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Amazon’s captive staff meetings on unions illegal, labor board official finds

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May 6 (Reuters) – A U.S. labor board official believes Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) violated federal law during mandatory staff meetings it held in New York City to discourage unionizing, a board spokesperson said on Friday, in what could lead to a new legal precedent.

The Amazon Labor Union alleged the retailer forced workers at an Amazon warehouse on Staten Island to attend the so-called captive audience trainings and said staff were threatened with dismissals if they joined the ALU, according to an amended complaint and an audio recording the union shared with Reuters.

The regional director of the Brooklyn-based office of the National Labor Relations Board has found merit to the allegations, in a potential first regarding captive-audience practices, board spokesperson Kayla Blado said. If the parties do not settle, the Brooklyn division will issue a complaint against Amazon that could be litigated up to the NLRB at the federal level.

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The NLRB’s Brooklyn region includes the borough of Staten Island.

An Amazon manager in March told workers that if they voted to organize, unions could bargain for a contract clause that “would require Amazon to fire you if you don’t want to join the union and pay union dues,” according to the recording the ALU shared.

In a statement, Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said, “These allegations are false and we look forward to showing that through the process.” Mandatory meetings have been legal for over 70 years and were commonly held by employers, Amazon said.

The NLRB precedent that the meetings are legal dates to the 1940s.

The New York warehouse elected to join the ALU within weeks of the March incident, becoming the first Amazon facility to vote to unionize in the United States. Amazon is contesting the result.

Amazon’s meetings have been a flashpoint for labor organizers who for years sought to represent workers at the second-largest U.S. private employer but lacked an equal venue to counter the company’s point of view.

Seth Goldstein, a pro bono attorney representing the ALU, said, “We hope that Amazon will cease their meritless objections to our overwhelming election victory and will instead focus on ending their unlawful union-busting practices.”

Last month, the NLRB’s top lawyer, Jennifer Abruzzo, asked the board to ban businesses from making workers attend anti-union meetings, calling them inconsistent with employees’ freedom of choice. In a future case, Abruzzo said she would ask the board to overturn the precedent that the meetings are legal.

President Joe Biden, considered the most pro-union U.S. president in decades, last year appointed Abruzzo as general counsel, a position independent from the five-member NLRB.

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Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in Palo Alto, Calif.; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Leslie Adler

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Amazon Union Success May Point to a New Labor Playbook

The critics typically acknowledge that the campaigns helped galvanize support for higher wages even if they fell short of unionizing workers. Defenders say the goal is to have an impact on a company- or industrywide scale rather than a few individual stores. They point to certain developments, like a pending California bill that would regulate fast-food wages and working conditions, as signs of progress.

In other cases, workers themselves have perceived the limitations of established unions and the advantages of going it alone. Joseph Fink, who works at an Amazon Fresh grocery store in Seattle with roughly 150 employees, said the workers there had reached out to a few unions when seeking to organize in the summer but decided that the unions’ focus on winning recognition through National Labor Relations Board elections would delay resolution of their complaints, which included sexual harassment and health and safety threats.

When the workers floated the idea of staging protests or walkouts as an alternative, union officials responded cautiously. “We received the response that if we were to speak up, assert our rights publicly, we’d be terminated,” Mr. Fink said. “It was a self-defeating narrative.”

The workers decided to form a union on their own without the formal blessing of the N.L.R.B., a model known as a “solidarity union,” whose roots precede the modern labor movement.

For workers who do seek N.L.R.B. certification, doing so independent of an established union also has advantages, such as confounding the talking points of employers and consultants, who often paint unions as “third parties” seeking to hoard workers’ dues.

At Amazon, the strategy was akin to sending a conventional army into battle against guerrillas: Organizers said the talking points had fallen flat once co-workers realized that the union consisted of fellow employees rather than outsiders.

“When a worker comes up to me, they look at me, then see I have a badge on and say, ‘You work here?’ They ask it in the most surprising way,” said Angelika Maldonado, an Amazon employee on Staten Island who heads the union’s workers committee. “‘I’m like, ‘Yeah, I work here.’ It makes us relatable from the beginning.”

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Amazon Workers on Staten Island Vote to Unionize

It was a union organizing campaign that few expected to have a chance. A handful of employees at Amazon’s massive warehouse on Staten Island, operating without support from national labor organizations, took on one of the most powerful companies in the world.

And, somehow, they won.

Workers at the facility voted by a wide margin to form a union, according to results released on Friday, in one of the biggest victories for organized labor in a generation.

Employees cast 2,654 votes to be represented by Amazon Labor Union and 2,131 against, giving the union a win by more than 10 percentage points, according to the National Labor Relations Board. More than 8,300 workers at the warehouse, which is the only Amazon fulfillment center in New York City, were eligible to vote.

The win on Staten Island comes at a perilous moment for labor unions in the United States, which saw the portion of workers in unions drop last year to 10.3 percent, the lowest rate in decades, despite high demand for workers, pockets of successful labor activity and rising public approval.

including some labor officials — say that traditional unions haven’t spent enough money or shown enough imagination in organizing campaigns and that they have often bet on the wrong fights. Some point to tawdry corruption scandals.

The union victory at Amazon, the first at the company in the United States after years of worker activism there, offers an enormous opportunity to change that trajectory and build on recent wins. Many union leaders regard Amazon as an existential threat to labor standards because it touches so many industries and frequently dominates them.

likely to be a narrow loss by the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union at a large Amazon warehouse in Alabama. The vote is close enough that the results will not be known for several weeks as contested ballots are litigated.

The surprising strength shown by unions in both locations most likely means that Amazon will face years of pressure at other company facilities from labor groups and progressive activists working with them. As a recent string of union victories at Starbucks have shown, wins at one location can provide encouragement at others.

Amazon hired voraciously over the past two years and now has 1.6 million employees globally. But it has been plagued by high turnover, and the pandemic gave employees a growing sense of power while fueling worries about workplace safety. The Staten Island warehouse, known as JFK8, was the subject of a New York Times investigation last year, which found that it was emblematic of the stresses — including inadvertent firings and sky-high attrition — on workers caused by Amazon’s employment model.

“The pandemic has fundamentally changed the labor landscape” by giving workers more leverage with their employers, said John Logan, a professor of labor studies at San Francisco State University. “It’s just a question of whether unions can take advantage of the opportunity that transformation has opened up.”

Standing outside the N.L.R.B. office in Brooklyn, where the ballots were tallied, Christian Smalls, a former Amazon employee who started the union, popped a bottle of champagne before a crowd of supporters and press. “To the first Amazon union in American history,” he cheered.

asked a judge to force Amazon to swiftly rectify “flagrant unfair labor practices” it said took place when Amazon fired a worker who became involved with the union. Amazon argued in court that the labor board abandoned “the neutrality of their office” by filing the injunction just before the election.

Amazon would need to prove that any claims of undue influence undermined the so-called laboratory conditions necessary for a fair election, said Wilma B. Liebman, the chair of the N.L.R.B. under President Barack Obama.

President Biden was “glad to see workers ensure their voices are heard” at the Amazon facility, Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters. “He believes firmly that every worker in every state must have a free and fair choice to join a union,” she said.

The near-term question facing the labor movement and other progressive groups is the extent to which they will help the upstart Amazon Labor Union withstand potential challenges to the result and negotiate a first contract, such as by providing resources and legal talent.

“The company will appeal, drag it out — it’s going to be an ongoing fight,” said Gene Bruskin, a longtime organizer who helped notch one of labor’s last victories on this scale, at a Smithfield meat-processing plant in 2008, and has informally advised the Staten Island workers. “The labor movement has to figure out how to support them.”

Sean O’Brien, the new president of the 1.3 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters, said in an interview on Thursday that the union was prepared to spend hundreds of millions of dollars unionizing Amazon and to collaborate with a variety of other unions and progressive groups.

said he became alarmed in March 2020 after encountering a co-worker who was clearly ill. He pleaded with management to close the facility for two weeks. The company fired him after he helped lead a walkout over safety conditions in late March that year.

Amazon said at the time that it had taken “extreme measures” to keep workers safe, including deep cleaning and social distancing. It said it had fired Mr. Smalls for violating social distancing guidelines and attending the walkout even though he had been placed in a quarantine.

After workers at Amazon’s warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., overwhelmingly rejected the retail workers union in its first election last spring, Mr. Smalls and Derrick Palmer, an Amazon employee who is his friend, decided to form a new union, called Amazon Labor Union.

While the organizing in Alabama included high-profile tactics, with progressive supporters like Senator Bernie Sanders visiting the area, the organizers at JFK8 benefited from being insiders.

For months, they set up shop at the bus stop outside the warehouse, grilling meat at barbecues and at one point even passing out pot. (The retail workers said they were hamstrung by Covid during their initial election in Alabama.)

nationwide agreement to allow workers more access to organize on-site.

At times the Amazon Labor Union stumbled. The labor board determined this fall that the fledgling union, which spent months collecting signatures from workers requesting a vote, had not demonstrated sufficient support to warrant an election. But the organizers kept trying, and by late January they had finally gathered enough signatures.

Amazon played up its minimum wage of $15 an hour in advertising and other public relations efforts. The company also waged a full-throated campaign against the union, texting employees and mandating attendance at anti-union meetings. It spent $4.3 million on anti-union consultants nationwide last year, according to annual disclosures filed on Thursday with the Labor Department.

In February, Mr. Smalls was arrested at the facility after managers said he was trespassing while delivering food to co-workers and called the police. Two current employees were also arrested during the incident, which appeared to galvanize interest in the union.

The difference in outcomes in Bessemer and Staten Island may reflect a difference in receptiveness toward unions in the two states — roughly 6 percent of workers in Alabama are union members, versus 22 percent in New York — as well as the difference between a mail-in election and one conducted in person.

But it may also suggest the advantages of organizing through an independent, worker-led union. In Alabama, union officials and professional organizers were still barred from the facility under the settlement with the labor board. But at the Staten Island site, a larger portion of the union leadership and organizers were current employees.

“What we were trying to say all along is that having workers on the inside is the most powerful tool,” said Mr. Palmer, who makes $21.50 an hour. “People didn’t believe it, but you can’t beat workers organizing other workers.”

The independence of the Amazon Labor Union also appeared to undermine Amazon’s anti-union talking points, which cast the union as an interloping “third party.”

On March 25, workers at JFK8 started lining up outside a tent in the parking lot to vote. And over five voting days, they cast their ballots to form what could become the first union at Amazon’s operations in the United States.

Another election, brought also by Amazon Labor Union at a neighboring Staten Island facility, is scheduled for late April.

Jodi Kantor contributed reporting.

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Amazon Warehouse in Alabama Set to Begin Second Union Election

During the first union election at Amazon’s Bessemer, Ala., warehouse, early last year, organizers largely avoided visiting workers at home because Covid was raging and few Americans were vaccinated.

The Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union believed the precaution was prudent even if it made persuading workers harder and may have contributed to the union’s lopsided defeat.

On Friday, the National Labor Relations Board will mail out ballots to workers at the same warehouse in a so-called re-run election, which the agency ordered after finding that Amazon behaved improperly during the last campaign.

But for this election, which runs through March 25, the labor movement is pulling few punches. Several national unions have collectively sent dozens of organizers to Bessemer to help rally workers. And organizers and workers have spent the past several months going door-to-door to build support for the union.

far more than half of all elections during that time, according to data from the National Labor Relations Board.

“In cases where the margin of victory is pretty significant one way or the other, the outcome often doesn’t change the second time,” said David Pryzbylski, a management-side lawyer at Barnes & Thornburg.

Those odds may be longer still at a company like Amazon, which has the resources to hire consultants and saturate workers with anti-union messages, as it did during the last election.

Turnover at Amazon is high — over 150 percent a year even before a recent surge of quitting nationwide — and could introduce uncertainty because it’s unclear how new workers will respond to arguments on either side.

previously said that its performance targets take into account safety and employees’ experience.

For Amazon, which is facing challenges to its labor model on multiple fronts, there is little incentive to ease its resistance to the union. Last year, California approved a law that would restrict the company’s use of productivity targets, and the roughly 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters elected a new president who promised a large investment in unionizing the company.

determined that organizers at JFK8, a massive warehouse on Staten Island, had submitted enough signatures to warrant a vote. The organizers are trying to form a new union, called Amazon Labor Union, rather than working with established groups. The labor board will hold a hearing in mid-February to determine how many workers could be eligible to vote, as well as the timing and terms of the election.

This week, the same union filed a petition for an election at a neighboring Amazon facility on Staten Island.

pressed for in-person voting, albeit at an off-site location in the union’s case, the labor board decided to run another mail-in election because of the pandemic.

Variations on practices that the labor board cited when invalidating the last election also remain in place, prompting the union to urge changes to the way the new election will be conducted. Not least is a so-called collection box that Amazon lobbied the U.S. Postal Service to install last year near the warehouse entrance, where workers were urged to deposit their ballots.

Amazon has said it sought the collection box to help workers vote safely, and that it did not have access to ballots deposited inside of it. But a regional director of the labor board found that Amazon had “essentially hijacked the process” by procuring the box. “This dangerous and improper message to employees destroys trust in the board’s processes and in the credibility of the election results,” the regional director wrote.

Yet in the run-up to the revote, the regional director allowed the Postal Service merely to move the box to a “neutral location” at the warehouse, rather than remove it entirely. The union argued in a request for an appeal that there is no neutral location on the site, and that the new location is still in view of Amazon’s surveillance cameras. A decision on the appeal could come during or after the election.

Some employees also say that despite reaching a nationwide settlement with the labor board in December to give union supporters more access to colleagues while at work, Amazon is still making it difficult for them to plead their case where they work.

Isaiah Thomas, a ship dock worker at the warehouse, recently received a letter from management saying he had violated the company policy against solicitation by talking to co-workers about the union during his break, though the company did not officially discipline him over the alleged violation.

“You were interfering with fellow associates during their working time, in their work areas,” the letter said. The union has filed an unfair labor practice charge arguing that the letter violates the company’s settlement with the labor board.

Yet the circumstances of the second election do appear to differ from those of the first election in some key respects. There is, for one thing, the fact of the finding by the labor board that Amazon violated union election rules, which organizers say comes up regularly in conversations with workers.

Mr. Appelbaum, the union president, said the on-the-ground presence of other unions was substantially higher than last year, thanks partly to the urging of Liz Shuler, the president of the A.F.L.-C.I.O., of which the retail workers union is a part.

Even non-A.F.L. unions like the Service Employees International Union and the Teamsters have dispatched organizers to Alabama, underscoring the high stakes for labor.

“I think there’s a recognition of the importance and transcendent nature of this fight,” Mr. Appelbaum said. “People throughout the labor movement understand that we cannot let Amazon go unchallenged or else it’s going to set the model for what the future of work is going to look like.”

He said that workers felt less intimidated by Amazon this time, with more of them speaking up during mandatory anti-union meetings. Pro-union workers also now wear T-shirts advertising their support for the union twice each week in a show of solidarity.

One group of workers recently delivered a petition with over 100 signatures to managers complaining of undignified treatment, low pay and insufficient breaks and break room equipment. Ms. Agrait, the Amazon spokeswoman, said the company encouraged constant communication between workers and managers.

Mr. Thomas, the ship dock worker, spends two days each week knocking on the doors of colleagues and said in an interview that many workers who voted against the union last year say they are supportive this time because the company hasn’t followed through on promises to act on their feedback.

“A lot of folks said they wanted to try to give Amazon a chance, but they didn’t meet their end of bargain,” he said. “Now they actually want to help form this union.”

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Amazon workers eligible to hold union election at New York warehouse -NLRB

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Jan 26 (Reuters) – A group of Amazon.com workers has met the requirements to hold a union election at a warehouse in Staten Island, New York, a spokesperson for the U.S. National Labor Relations Board confirmed on Wednesday, paving the way for another high-profile labor battle at the online retailer.

NLRB spokesperson Kayla Blado wrote in an email that group of workers, known as the Amazon Labor Union, had “reached a sufficient showing of interest.” In order to hold an election supervised by the U.S. National Labor Relations Board, unions must show that they have gathered signatures of support from at least 30% of workers who are eligible to vote.

“We are jumping for joy,” said Chris Smalls, president of the group and a former employee at the Staten Island warehouse. “We know it’s a long battle ahead of us, but to get over this hump, the show of interest, it’s definitely historic for us.”

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The Amazon Labor Union, which is not affiliated with a major U.S. union, withdrew its petition in November after the NLRB notified them that they had not collected enough signatures. But on Wednesday afternoon, the NLRB told the group that they had cleared the hurdle, Smalls said.

Amazon spokesperson Kelly Nantel said the company was seeking more information about how the signatures were verified.

“We’re skeptical that there are a sufficient number of legitimate signatures,” Nantel said in a statement. “Our employees have always had a choice of whether or not to join a union, and as we saw just a few months ago, the vast majority of our team in Staten Island did not support the ALU.”

The NLRB will hold a hearing regarding the upcoming election on Feb. 16.

Amazon is facing a growing volley of campaigns to organize its vast workforce. Next month, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama will vote again on whether to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). Amazon handily defeated the union campaign last year, but the NLRB called for another vote after finding the company improperly interfered in the first contest.

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Reporting by Julia Love; additional reporting by Jeffrey Dastin; Editing by Leslie Adler and Aurora Ellis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Taking On Starbucks, Inspired by Bernie Sanders

Starbucks allows employees who work at least 20 hours a week to obtain health coverage, more generous than most competitors, and has said it will increase average pay for hourly employees to nearly $17 an hour by this summer, well above the industry norm. The company also offers to pay the tuition of employees admitted to pursue an online bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University, helping it attract workers with college aspirations.

Such people, in turn, tend to be sympathetic to unions and a variety of social activism. A recent Gallup poll found that people under 35 or who are liberal are substantially more likely than others to support unions.

Several Starbucks workers seeking to organize unions in Buffalo; Boston; Chicago; Seattle; Knoxville, Tenn.; Tallahassee, Fla.; and the Denver area appeared to fit this profile, saying they were either strong supporters of Mr. Sanders and other progressive politicians, had attended college or both. Most were under 30.

“I’ve been involved in political organizing, the Bernie Sanders campaign,” said Brick Zurek, a leader of a union campaign at a Starbucks in Chicago. “That gave me a lot of skill.” Mx. Zurek, who uses gender-neutral courtesy titles and pronouns, also said they had a bachelor’s degree.

Len Harris, who has helped lead a campaign at a Starbucks near Denver, said that “I admire the progressivism, the sense of community” of politicians like Mr. Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York. She said that she had graduated from college and that she was awaiting admissions decisions for graduate school.

And most union supporters have drawn inspiration from their colleagues in Buffalo. Sydney Durkin and Rachel Ybarra, who are helping to organize a Starbucks in Seattle, said workers at their store discussed the Buffalo campaign almost daily as it unfolded and that one reached out to the union after the National Labor Relations Board announced the initial results of the Buffalo elections in December. (The union’s second victory was announced Monday, after the labor board resolved ballot challenges.)

Ms. Ybarra said the victory showed workers it was possible to unionize despite company opposition. “The Buffalo folks became superheroes,” she said. “A lot of us spent so much time being afraid of retaliation — none of us could afford to lose our jobs, have our hours cut.”

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Amazon Reaches Labor Deal, Giving Workers More Power to Organize

SEATTLE — Amazon, which faces mounting scrutiny over worker rights, agreed to let its warehouse employees more easily organize in the workplace as part of a nationwide settlement with the National Labor Relations Board this month.

Under the settlement, made final on Wednesday, Amazon said it would email past and current warehouse workers — likely more than one million people — with notifications of their rights and give them greater flexibility to organize in its buildings. The agreement also makes it easier and faster for the N.L.R.B., which investigates claims of unfair labor practices, to sue Amazon if it believes the company violated the terms.

Amazon has previously settled individual cases with the labor agency, but the new settlement’s national scope and its concessions to organizing go further than any previous agreement.

Because of Amazon’s sheer size — more than 750,000 people work in its operations in the United States alone — the agency said the settlement would reach one of the largest groups of workers in its history. The tech giant also agreed to terms that would let the N.L.R.B. bypass an administrative hearing process, a lengthy and cumbersome undertaking, if the agency found that the company had not abided by the settlement.

on a hiring frenzy in the pandemic and is the nation’s second-largest private employer after Walmart, has faced increased labor pressure as its work force has soared to nearly 1.5 million globally. The company has become a leading example of a rising tide of worker organizing as the pandemic reshapes what employees expect from their employers.

This year, Amazon has grappled with organizing efforts at warehouses in Alabama and New York, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters formally committed to support organizing at the company. Other companies, such as Starbucks, Kellogg and Deere & Company, have faced rising union activity as well.

Compounding the problem, Amazon is struggling to find enough employees to satiate its growth. The company was built on a model of high-turnover employment, which has now crashed into a phenomenon known as the Great Resignation, with workers in many industries quitting their jobs in search of a better deal for themselves.

it would spend $4 billion to deal with labor shortages this quarter alone.

“This settlement agreement provides a crucial commitment from Amazon to millions of its workers across the United States that it will not interfere with their right to act collectively to improve their workplace by forming a union or taking other collective action,” Jennifer Abruzzo, the N.L.R.B.’s new general counsel appointed by President Biden, said in a statement on Thursday.

Amazon declined to comment. The company has said it supports workers’ rights to organize but believes employees are better served without a union.

Amazon and the labor agency have been in growing contact, and at times conflict. More than 75 cases alleging unfair labor practices have been brought against Amazon since the start of the pandemic, according to the N.L.R.B.’s database. Ms. Abruzzo has also issued several memos directing the agency’s staff to enforce labor laws against employers more aggressively.

threw out the results of a failed, prominent union election at an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, saying the company had inappropriately interfered with the voting. The agency ordered another election. Amazon has not appealed the finding, though it can still do so.

Other employers, from beauty salons to retirement communities, have made nationwide settlements with the N.L.R.B. in the past when changing policies.

well established, said Matthew Bodie, a former lawyer for the N.L.R.B. who teaches labor law at Saint Louis University.

“The fact that you can hang around and chat — that is prime, protected concerted activity periods, and the board has always been very protective of that,” he said.

Mr. Miin, who is part of an organizing group called Amazonians United Chicagoland, and other workers in Chicago reached a settlement with Amazon in the spring over the 15-minute rule at a different delivery station where they had worked last year. Two corporate employees also settled privately with Amazon in an agreement that included a nationwide notification of worker rights, but the agency does not police it.

Mr. Goldstein said he was “impressed” that the N.L.R.B. had pressed Amazon to agree to terms that would let the agency bypass its administrative hearing process, which happens before a judge and in which parties prepare arguments and present evidence, if it found the company had broken the agreement’s terms.

“They can get a court order to make Amazon obey federal labor law,” he said.

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Brooklyn Museum Employees Take Steps Toward a Union

Employees at yet another of New York City’s major museums have taken steps to form a union.

This time the organizing effort is taking place at the Brooklyn Museum, where a proposed union would represent a mixture of full- and part-time workers. The Technical, Office and Professional Union, Local 2110, U.A.W. filed a petition Tuesday with the National Labor Relations Board asking for a vote on the union.

The proposed bargaining unit includes about 130 employees, Maida Rosenstein, the local’s president, said. Among them are curators, conservators, editors and fund-raisers, who have full-time salaried jobs; and part-time educators, visitor services workers and gift shop employees, she said, adding that there may be others who are misclassified as independent contractors when they are technically part-time employees.

Natalya Swanson, a conservator at the museum who has taken part in the organizing effort, said that workers are concerned with, among other issues, job security, pay equity and having a clear path for promotion.

“People see many advantages to having a more democratic voice in the institution,” she said. “We recognize that we have the ability to advance the conditions for everyone in the workplace.”

George Floyd, the Brooklyn Museum home page included a message reading: “We stand in solidarity with the Black community. We stand against police brutality and institutional and structural racism.”

A recently opened show, “The Slipstream: Reflection, Resilience and Resistance in the Art of Our Time,” aims to examine power and to contemplate “the confluence of the devastating effects of the pandemic, civil unrest across the United States, a contested presidential election and unchecked climate change.”

As the pandemic prompted layoffs and furloughs at museums across New York City, people at the Brooklyn Museum were among those who lost jobs, Swanson said, though she did not know the precise number of employees affected by layoffs.

moved to form a union with Local 2110, which already represents workers at institutions like the Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum and the New-York Historical Society.

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New York Times Tells Tech Workers to Put Union Effort to a Vote

The New York Times Company said on Thursday that it would not voluntarily recognize a newly formed union of tech and digital employees, instructing the group to put the matter to a formal vote through the National Labor Relations Board.

The Times Tech Guild, a group affiliated with the NewsGuild of New York, had asked the company for recognition on April 13, when it announced that a majority of tech workers had formed a union. The group includes software engineers, data analysts, designers and product managers.

In an email to staff on Thursday, the Times chief executive, Meredith Kopit Levien, wrote that, since the union was formed, “we have heard questions and concerns from many of our colleagues about what this would really mean for their careers.”

“As a result, this morning, we advised the NewsGuild that we believe the right next step is a democratic process that surfaces all the facts, answers questions from employees and managers, and then lets employees decide via an election,” the note continued.

voluntarily recognized the Wirecutter union in 2019.

If an employer does not voluntarily recognize a union, the National Labor Relations Board may hold an election. If a majority votes in favor, the union can start negotiations with management.

A Times spokeswoman said in a statement that the company had a long history of productive relationships with unions and with nonunion employees.

the latest to join the wave.

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