Corporations Undermining Unions: From Starbucks to Amazon- Using Every Dirty Trick to Stall Contract Negotiations
Challenging Times for Starbucks and Amazon Workers
Tyler Daguerre, leader of the Starbucks Workers Union (SBWU) from Boston, while saluting his fellow workers who across the country have successfully unionized more than 300 coffee stores/cafes, criticized the Starbucks corporation for stalling negotiations with the union for a contract. "It is the feeling of the campaign that Starbucks (management) is generally unwilling to meet workers at the table, preferring instead to invest in undermining this campaign...".
He was one of the speakers at “Seizing the Moment” Boston Labor Conference 2023 which was organized by the Labor Resource Center of University of Massachusetts (UMass) in Boston on April 1, 2023. The Labor conference brought many activists and union leaders to discuss the ongoing militant strikes and struggles across many unions like the school bus drivers, teachers, hotel workers, grocery store workers (Trader Joe's), Starbucks coffee chain workers, Amazon workers and others. Other speakers included Steven Tolman, President of The American Federation of Labor, and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Massachusetts (MA), Chris Smalls, President Amazon Workers Union (ALU) and Jamie Edwards, President Trader Joe's United in MA.
SBWU were victorious in December 2021 with their 1st union in Buffalo, New York. In less than 18 months there are now more than 300 unions out of a total of 9000 Starbucks stores in the United States. The workers in these 300 stores have won while facing extreme union busting efforts by the multi-billion-dollar coffee chain which has included firing of workers who have been involved in the organizing efforts. In March 2023, Federal labor judge Michael Rosas ruled that Starbucks violated labor laws with "egregious" misconduct. Starbucks was ordered to reinstate 7 employees fired for union activity at one store. Among other orders, the judge also asked Starbucks to bargain with the union. Michelle Eisen, a Starbucks worker, and union organizer in Buffalo after listening to the order said, "This decision results from months of tireless organizing by workers in cafes across the country demanding better working conditions...".
Tyler, like many other leaders in the SBWU, is frustrated that they still do not have a contract and spoke about this with me after a long shift at the coffee shop in Boston. "With respect to a contract, Starbucks has continuously walked out of negotiations, without ever substantially bargaining in good faith with Starbucks workers. Starbucks claimed that they would negotiate in "closed" bargaining sessions, whereas workers felt a need to push for hybrid sessions for a myriad of reasons, ranging from accessibility for disabled or out-of-area workers who could not afford to make the commute, to safety precautions regarding the ongoing pandemic. The theory that Starbucks would bargain in closed sessions was put to the test in Seattle recently, where workers did, in fact, close their laptops, to see if Starbucks would bargain. Perhaps unsurprising, no substantive bargaining took place."
Amazon workers in Staten Island fulfillment center-warehouse (JFK8) in New York (NY) state won the election to form a union on April 1, 2022, with an impressive margin. This was a historic victory of the working class in the U.S. Christian Smalls, an African American, was elected as the President of the ALU. Amazon refused to accept the results. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) upheld the election results of April 2022 on January 11, 2023, after Amazon appealed the union result. Amazon has not come to the negotiating table for a contract even after this hearing. The Huffington post based on financial disclosures filed with the Department of Labor, reported that Amazon corporation spent 14.2 million dollars on anti-union consultants in 2022. University of California Berkeley Labor Center released a report in May 2022 that details Amazon's violation of international labor standards. Other than hiring anti-union consultants to wage campaigns, some of the measures taken by management include instilling fear into workers that they will lose jobs if they vote for a union, developing anti-union websites, holding captive meetings with anti-union propaganda etc.
Recent Victories of Amazon and Google Contract Workers
Amazon's delivery network works with 3000 companies that provide drivers and dispatchers. The Teamsters union which represents more than a million workers in the U.S. and Canada, organized 84 drivers at Battle Tested Strategies (BTS) one of the 3000 Delivery Service Partners (DSPs) in April 2023. Activists are celebrating this victory which will significantly increase the wages for the drivers and will put in more safety measures at work. Amazon clearly unhappy with this development was quick to respond and said that BTS “had a track record of failing to perform and had been notified of its termination for poor performance well before announcement.” These recently organized drivers have their contract with BTS until October 3rd and continue to deliver Amazon packages. Amazon, by severing its relationship with the sub contractor, BTS, does not want to honor the new contract with the unionized workers.
There are currently more than 100,000 drivers in the U.S. who deliver packages for Amazon. They are “contract” workers working under dire conditions. Amazon has ridiculously high quotas for delivery drivers. A study in 2021 by Strategic Organizing Committee - a coalition of unions, analyzed data provided by Amazon and its delivery partners. The study found that 1 in 4 drivers had suffered injuries and 1 in 7 had serious injuries.
In 2023, YouTube music contractors organized with Alphabet Workers Union-Communication Workers of America (CWA). They were victorious in March 2023 when NLRB ruled that although they were hired by Cognizant, Google should be considered a joint employer (Google bought YouTube in 2006). This ruling has set a good precedent, the subcontracting model of Amazon can be challenged legally. If Amazon is considered a joint employer with BTS, it will have to honor the contract won by Teamsters union for the 84 delivery drivers.
AFL-CIO the largest federation of trade unions representing 12 million workers has a sordid history of class-collaboration in the U.S. AFL-CIO aided U.S interventions for several decades to promote the interests of U.S. transnational corporations and ostensibly to enable U.S workers to have “good” jobs. This has been described as “labor imperialism” by many left-wing scholars. Currently, it continues to support the Democratic party which represents the interests of America's capitalist class.
Dimitrov in "Tasks of Trade Unions" said succinctly....."The trade unions have always either remained true to the proletarian cause and have resolutely fought against capitalism, taking part in some way or other in the political struggles in favor of the proletariat, or have directly or indirectly, in one form or another, been at the service of the bourgeoisie, letting the bourgeois parties use them in their internecine struggles for the plums derived from power....."
SWU and ALU, unlike AFL-CIO, are fledgling unions with largely young workers who do not have any illusions about their ruling class. They are waging a spirited battle against large corporations without too many resources and the road ahead for them is not too smooth. Steve Gillis, former president of the Boston School Bus Drivers' Union who attended "Seizing the Moment" Boston Labor Conference 2023, said he is encouraged by the "young rank and file workers rising". He felt that the call of the young leaders of these unions is to "redirect labor's massive resources away from do-nothing Democrats and dead-end NLRB appeals to the ranks organizing on the streets...who are under severe attack by corporations...."
The fight continues, stay tuned!