How Amazon, Starbucks, and other companies fight unions

Big corporations are fighting dirty to keep their workers from organizing – and they’re still losing. Imagine what could happen if they had to fight fair.

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You as a worker have a legal right to join a union, but there are many ways big corporations are skirting the law to stop you from getting your fair share. You could be working for a union-buster and not even know it.

Here are four of the biggest union-busting tricks to look out for:

One: Anti-Union Propaganda.

Employers turn workers into a captive audience for false or misleading claims about unions. 

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In 2019 Delta distributed pamphlets to flight attendants and ramp service workers warning that union fees would cost $700 dollars per year. But here’s what they didn’t mention: unionized workers earn $700 more per month.

Weird how they left that part out, isn’t it?

Amazon wallpapered its warehouses with anti-union ads. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz claimed he had no choice but to exclude workers at unionizing stores from new employee benefits.

Apparently when you’re the boss you can just make stuff up.

Two: Your employer hires fancy anti-union firms, lawyers, and consultants.

The company claims it can’t afford to raise workers’ pay but spends millions on anti-union consultants. You might hear your bosses call this “Union Avoidance,” but it basically just means “Union busting, in a suit.”

Three: Delay, delay, delay.

It’s illegal for employers to cancel a vote on whether to unionize. But they skirt the law to keep that vote from happening as long as possible.

And while they’re delaying, they play dirty tricks to stop a union’s momentum. Before a recent labor election in Buffalo, Starbucks flooded stores with managers to pressure workers. One Starbucks employee reported he was told to go to a meeting, only to be greeted by six managers pressuring him to reject the union.

So that’s how many managers it takes to screw over an employee.

Four: If none of these union-busting tactics work, your employer might just break the law.

Starbucks recently fired more than twenty union leaders. Amazon fired a union leader for missing work – even though he was on leave to care for a COVID-stricken family member. U.S. employers are charged with violating federal law in over 40% of all union election campaigns.

I’m sorry, I just have to pause for a second here. 40% of the time? Really? If I broke the law 40% of the time, I’d be in jail quicker than you can say “Pinkerton!”

Are companies allowed to skirt the law like this? No! But labor laws take a long time to enforce – if they’re enforced at all. And the worst that can happen is a corporation has to rehire a worker who it illegally fired and provide back pay. No wonder some companies decide that breaking the law is cheaper than following it. It’s simply a “cost of doing business” for a giant corporation like Amazon.

But here’s some good news: A bill called “The PRO Act” would strengthen protections for union organizers and make many kinds of “union avoidance” illegal. Call your lawmakers and ask them to support it today.

They won’t just be on the right side of history. They’ll be on the right side of public opinion. A majority of Americans, including 77% of young people, support the right to join a union. Workers at Starbucks and Amazon have refused to be intimidated and have started to unionize. All over the country, American workers are growing wise to corporate union-busting tricks.

Big corporations are fighting dirty to keep their workers from organizing – and they’re still losing. Imagine what could happen if they had to fight fair.

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Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fourteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "Saving Capitalism." He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, co-founder of the nonprofit Inequality Media and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, Inequality for All.

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