Starbucks and Amazon accused of dragging their feet on union contracts – The Guardian US - eComEmpireStore + Brought to You By: Robert Villapane Ramos

Starbucks and Amazon accused of dragging their feet on union contracts – The Guardian US

After successful unionization drives, experts say companies will ‘fight to the end’ to prevent the next stepOver the past year, workers at Starbucks, Amazon, Trader Joe’s and Apple have all achieved historic, hard-won union victories, but now many of these newly unionized workers fear they might face an even bigger challenge: negotiating a first union […]

After successful unionization drives, experts say companies will ‘fight to the end’ to prevent the next step
Over the past year, workers at Starbucks, Amazon, Trader Joe’s and Apple have all achieved historic, hard-won union victories, but now many of these newly unionized workers fear they might face an even bigger challenge: negotiating a first union contract.
Exhibit A for that challenge is the slow pace of progress at Starbucks. Unions have won elections at more than 220 stores. Many baristas are upset that Starbucks has begun negotiations with workers at only three of them.
“The company is dragging its feet and hasn’t agreed to anything,” said Michelle Eisen, a barista and bargaining committee member at the Elmwood Starbucks in Buffalo, which became the first company-operated Starbucks to unionize in the US last December. Eisen said the company’s insistence on negotiating individual contracts with each of the 200-plus unionized stores aims to delay ever reaching a contract with all of its unionized stores. Eisen also said that Starbucks had repeatedly failed to provide the union’s negotiators with needed information about the economics and operations of the unionized stores.
“The only conclusion is that they’re not ready to negotiate a fair contract,” Eisen said, although Starbucks insists it is intent on bargaining in good faith.
Agreeing on a first contract quickly is a high-stakes matter. If unionized workers at Starbucks, Amazon or Trader Joe’s facilities quickly reach first contracts that contain impressive raises and benefits, that will no doubt inspire workers at many other Starbucks, Amazon and Trader Joe’s operations to seek to unionize. But if companies manage to drag out reaching a first contract for a year or two or three, that could send a strong signal that unionization might not be the boon workers had hoped for.
“For Jeff Bezos and Howard Schultz, Amazon and Starbucks are their babies,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education research at Cornell University. “They feel a union is a violation of everything they achieved. This is real personal for them. They’ll fight to the end to prevent a contract.”
Bronfenbrenner said Starbucks and Amazon know that if they drag out contract negotiations, there will be huge employee turnover and workers might grow impatient and disgruntled with their unions, which may prompt them to vote to decertify it.
“I think Amazon is going to drag out negotiations unless we put pressure on them,” said Seth Goldstein, a lawyer for the Amazon Labor Union, which scored a huge union victory at an 8,300-employee Amazon warehouse on Staten Island in New York in April. Putting pressure on a colossus like Amazon won’t be easy, Goldstein acknowledged, although he cited one example that could help: 70 prominent TikTok creators with collectively more than 51 million followers have called for boycotting Amazon unless it halts its anti-union efforts and grants big concessions to its workers.
Amazon has asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to overturn the union’s 2,654-to-2,131 vote on Staten Island, asserting that organizers engaged in misconduct and that the NLRB improperly favored the union. The union counters that Amazon’s charges are unfounded and a pretext to delay the start of contract talks. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.
Lynne Fox, the president of Workers United, the union that Starbucks workers have voted to join, wrote to Howard Schultz on 5 August to urge the company to move faster to set up negotiations and provide needed information.
Reggie Borges, a Starbucks spokesperson, told the Guardian: “Claims of delay tactics are untrue.” He said: “We have engaged or responded to bargain with a majority of the stores and are working through additional requests.” Borges added that Starbucks will “continue to consistently meet the expectation we’ve set that we will bargain in good faith”. May Jensen, Starbucks’ vice-president of partner resources, wrote to the union that since it originally insisted on store-by-store elections – rather than harder-to-win combined election for all the Starbucks stores in a city or area – it only made sense to hold store-by-store contract negotiations.
In a 2008 study, John-Paul Ferguson, a professor of organizational behavior at McGill University, found that of the 8,155 union election victories over a five-year period, the union obtained first contracts in just 56.3% of cases. In a 2009 study, Bronfenbrenner found that after workers won union elections, 52% of the time they were without a first contract a year later and 37% of the time without one two years later.
“It’s even harder now” to reach a first contract than when he did his study, Ferguson said. “It’s depressing.” He said that some prominent US corporations are showing – when one considers their anti-union campaigns, the firing of pro-union workers and closing of facilities that recently unionized or were seeking to unionize – that they are intent on never wanting to reach a first contract.
“Employers,” Ferguson said, “are treating the union’s success in an NLRB election as just as another setback.” He said the companies appeared to be thinking: “‘We’re going to repeal it by refusing to negotiate a contract.’”
There is no real disincentive to prevent companies from dragging out negotiations indefinitely because federal labor law contains no financial penalties against companies that bargain in bad faith to delay ever reaching an agreement, Bronfenbrenner said. “If Amazon absolutely refuses to reach a deal, there’s really no legal penalty for them,” he said.
David DiMaria, the machinists union’s lead organizer at the first Apple store to unionize in the US, in Towson, Maryland, said he was optimistic that contract negotiations with Apple would go smoothly. “They have been responsive,” DiMaria said. “Our assumption is they intend to negotiate a contract. They have relationships with unions in other countries.”
But Sarah Beth Ryther, a Trader Joe’s worker, was not so optimistic – her store in Minneapolis voted 55 to 5 to unionize in August, becoming the second unionized Trader Joe’s. “I anticipate that it’s going to be very difficult to reach a contract,” Ryther said. “We asked for a free and fair election. Trader Joe’s didn’t give us that. They were consistently attempting to union-bust.”
A Trader Joe’s spokesperson said that while the company was concerned about “how this new rigid legal relationship will impact Trader Joe’s culture, we are prepared to immediately begin discussions with their collective bargaining representative to negotiate a contract”.
A pressing question for many newly unionized workers is how to get anti-union companies to stop procrastinating and to reach a contract. Jaz Brisack, a Starbucks barista and organizer in Buffalo, said: “It’s going to take pickets and a lot of community support to bring Starbucks to the bargaining table.” The Starbucks union has laid the groundwork for a boycott, creating a “No Contract, No Coffee” campaign, signaling that it would call on supporters across the US to boycott if it concludes that Starbucks is deliberately delaying and not bargaining in good faith.
Many baristas say Starbucks has sought to make the pain from the slow-moving negotiations far worse by saying it would give raises and new benefits to its non-union workers, but not to its newly unionized workers – a threat the NLRB says constitutes illegal discrimination against unionized workers.
Bronfenbrenner said Starbucks would be far more vulnerable to consumer pressure than Amazon because spending on Starbucks coffee is discretionary. In contrast, Amazon has become a behemoth that tens of millions of consumers feel they can’t live without.
Goldstein said one way to pressure Amazon is to press local authorities to deny permissions and tax abatements to the company to build new warehouses. He noted that Amazon’s plans to build a giant cargo hub near Newark airport collapsed in July after facing intense community and labor opposition.
But some critics say warehouse-by-warehouse pressure will not be enough. Some prefer Senator Bernie Sanders’ call to end billions in federal cloud computing contracts to Amazon unless it stops its “illegal anti-union activity” – whether it is intimidating workers to vote against a union or bargaining in bad faith to drag out contract talks.