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Amazon and Starbucks launch counterattack against US union mobilization advance

Latest NewsAmazon and Starbucks launch counterattack against US union mobilization advance

Members of the Starbucks workers union held a demonstration on the first day of May in Seattle.Jennifer Buchanan (AP)

Marcus (not his real name), an Amazon delivery driver in New York, admits that the atmosphere of intimidation at the company convinced him to abstain from the union’s vote. He doesn’t even want to specify which Staten Island warehouse he depends on (the largest approved the firm’s first union in April, the second just turned down the offer), but explains that he’s walking the sidewalk without stopping for a minute. secondly, his reasons for “keeping a job”: three small children and an unemployed wife with permanent covid. Michelle Eisen, a veteran Starbucks barista in Buffalo, the chain’s first establishment in December, says that joining a union never crossed her mind until the pandemic turned everything upside down: “The company increased its profits thanks to my work . and my colleagues who risked our health for nothing in return.”

Amazon is using heavy artillery to stop its workforce from unionizing. Starbucks also has restless baristas; to his partners, as he likes to call his employees, to whom he offers an increase in salary … As long as they do not mobilize. Workers from both companies have been spearheading an ebullient mobilization for months, spearheading a movement that crosses layers and categories: from food deliveries or drivers to museum workers, university professors and architects; a 57% increase in trade union activity between October and March. In a country where unions are at their worst (private sector membership is around 10%), the Amazon and Starbucks cases have become the paradigm of a David vs. Goliath fight, with notable victories for the former, but far more accurate, and sometimes unfair, blows from the giant.

The firing of two union leaders from Amazon’s Staten Island department store this week was the latest chapter in the corporate offensive. The two encouraged the mobilization that led to the big victory for the center union, known as JFK8. But the e-commerce giant not only refused to recognize the new Amazon Workers Union (ALU), but also appealed the vote to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB, the federal agency that monitors workers’ rights to organize). ), and also fired six managers for allegedly not hindering mobilization in what the firm describes as “operational and leadership appraisal” of their positions. The NLRB sued Starbucks last week for retaliation against worker representatives, such as layoffs, threats and surveillance. A spokesperson for the network succinctly dismissed the claim for the paper, “without grounds.”

Making a name for yourself in the American corporate world is still risky, despite the most pro-union presidency of Democrat Joe Biden in decades, who not only urges workers to unite but seeks to make the federal government a model of good behavior. union practices, and who hosted new leaders at the White House last week. One of the sacked JFK8s made headlines after the union’s historic victory. “I think it’s revenge, I’ve been in all the national media,” said Tristan Dutchin, 27, who was fired “for not meeting performance goals.” This newspaper tried unsuccessfully to obtain the company’s version. All of a sudden, the ALU began to lead a low-key lifestyle, avoiding contact with the press, which this newspaper was also able to confirm.

Layoffs are not new to Amazon, the country’s second-largest private employer. In March 2020, he fired ALU leader Chris Smalls for speaking out about the unsafeness of the coronavirus at JFK8. The same fate befell another comrade who supported him, although later the court decided to reinstate him at work. The company also fired another representative at a warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, who opened fire in April 2021. The Bessemer incident was the biggest labor issue since 2016, when a fight broke out in Virginia; even today, the result of the vote in Bessemer is a point of contention between workers and management, centered on the NLRB.

Amazon’s guide to anti-union practices has been successful. Constant monitoring by human resources of employees to clarify their situation (“You always feel their eyes on the back of your head, it doesn’t occur to you to talk about it with colleagues,” says Markus); anti-union bulletin board messages (some as rude as “to pay union dues, you’ll have to take them out of lunch”), treating union representatives as “a cancerous tumor for the company”. The first mobilization in 2016 in Virginia, under the auspices of a major union that also supported Bessemer, was deactivated out of fear. In Bessemer, the company even moved the traffic light to the hangars to interfere with the interaction between colleagues. At JFK8, workers had to gather outside around the bus stop because they couldn’t hold rallies inside the compound.

He thoroughly knows all sides of the coin.

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Starbucks associates, associates or colleagues are dragging their resentment after being the company’s operational vanguard during the pandemic. The discrepancy between their dedication and willingness to take risks as essential frontline workers and low value and reward from the company was brought to light at a virtual meeting held in early May by the Brookings Institution, where barista Eisen explained his reasons for unionizing. “We are risking our health and safety by working during the pandemic. But then we heard our CEO announce record profits… This money comes from my work and the work of my colleagues. I have colleagues who are crying in the back room because they don’t know if they can pay the rent and fill the refrigerator this week,” the woman explained.

That summer, as he was about to give up and quit his job, Eisen joined forces with his colleagues to organize the company’s first union vote. They won, and since then Starbucks has suffered over 50 failures. Since August, employees of more than 200 chain stores in the United States have begun the process of self-organization.

Jack Rasmus, an economics professor at St. Mary’s College of California and an organizer of “four different unions and a contract negotiator,” continues this unequal struggle in its dual academic and union aspects. “For the past five decades, corporate America has used the same strategies and tactics that Amazon and Starbucks use today to prevent workers from unionizing. There is nothing new in this. Labor laws and the US government became increasingly anti-worker and anti-union after 1947. They managed not only to prevent unionization, but also to reduce it. The laws allow employers to threaten and bribe workers to vote against unions in elections. And even when workers win elections, laws allow employers to avoid negotiating with new unions. Meanwhile, Democratic Party politicians are promising reforms but not delivering like ProAct,” explains Rasmus, referring to the acronym for the “Protect the Right to Organize” law, encouraged by the Democratic Party administration and stalled since March in the Senate.

“Amazon continues to use anti-union tactics to crack down on union activity at its facilities, but Bessemer’s repeat vote plus the planned Staten Island vote show that workers are determined to fight for dignity and speak with one voice in defense of core work. perform within the company’s global supply chain,” Patricia Campos Medina, director of the Workers’ Institute at Cornell University, explained earlier this month before a second consultation. “Ultimately, at large corporations like Amazon, what we need is not a company-level strategy driven by local unions, but an industry-wide negotiation strategy driven by regional authorities and politicians. The courage of workers in Staten Island is just the beginning.”

Union awareness seemed to take time after the impact of the 2008 crisis, while the unbridled activism of groups and minorities, demanding their respective rights as identities, grew. It was an obvious imbalance in which only the consciousness of the (working) class seemed to be missing. The pandemic was the stimulus, the spur, the very one that, in another manifestation of the phenomenon of dissatisfaction with work, takes millions of people out of the market every month (the so-called Great Resignation or Great Resignation). Both phenomena go hand in hand, but according to the Brookings report, it is the company that continues to gain the upper hand despite the union mirage.

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