Starbucks and Amazon accused of failing to sign union contracts

Over the past year, workers at Starbucks, Amazon, Trader Joe’s and Apple have achieved historic hard-won union victories, but now many of these new union workers fear they may face an even bigger challenge: negotiating their first union contract.

Figure A of this challenge is the slow pace of progress at Starbucks. Unions won the elections in more than 220 stores. Many baristas are upset that Starbucks has begun negotiations with workers in only three of them.

“The company is slowing down and hasn’t agreed to anything,” said Michelle Eisen, a barista and negotiating committee member at Elmwood Starbucks in Buffalo, which became the first corporate-run Starbucks in the United States last December. Eisen said the company’s insistence on negotiating individual contracts with each of its 200-plus union stores aims to delay reaching a contract with all of its union stores. Eisen also said Starbucks has repeatedly failed to provide union negotiators with necessary information about the economics and operations of union stores.

“The only conclusion is that they are not prepared to negotiate a fair contract,” Eisen said, although Starbucks insists it is intent on the good faith bargain.

Agreeing on the first contract quickly is risky. If unionized workers at Starbucks, Amazon or Trader Joe’s facilities quickly come up with the first contracts that have great raises and benefits, it will undoubtedly inspire workers in many other Starbucks, Amazon and Trader Joe’s operations to seek union. But if companies can continue to reach the first contract for a year, two or three, that could send a strong signal that unions may not be the boon workers were hoping for.

“For Jeff Bezos and Howard Schultz, Amazon and Starbucks are their children,” said Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of work education research at Cornell University. “They feel the union is a violation of everything they have achieved. This is really personal to them. They will fight to the end to prevent the contract.”

Bronfenbrenner said Starbucks and Amazon know that if contract negotiations drag on, there will be huge employee turnover and workers may become impatient and resent their unions, which could prompt them to vote to decertify it.

Seth Goldstein, an attorney with the Amazon workers union, said it won a major union victory at an Amazon warehouse of 8,300 employees on Staten Island in New York in April. Goldstein acknowledged that lobbying a giant like Amazon won’t be easy, though he cited one example that could help: 70 prominent TikTok creators with over 51 million followers have collectively called for a boycott of Amazon unless it stops its anti-union efforts and grants concessions. great for its workers.

An Amazon Workers Union (ALU) organizer greets workers in the Staten Island area of ​​New York City. Photograph: Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Amazon asked the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to cancel the union vote of 2,654 to 2,131 in Staten Island, asserting that regulators engaged in misconduct and that the NLRB improperly favored the union. The union responds by saying Amazon’s accusations are unfounded and an excuse to delay the start of contract talks. Amazon did not respond to a request for comment.

Lynne Fox, president of Labor Union, the union that Starbucks workers voted to join, wrote to Howard Schultz on August 5 to urge the company to move faster to conduct negotiations and provide needed information.

“Allegations of delay tactics are untrue,” Starbucks spokesman Reggie Burgess told the Guardian. “We have dealt or responded to bargaining with the majority of stores and are working through additional orders,” he said. Borges added that Starbucks “will continue to meet the expectations we have set that we will negotiate in good faith.” Mae Jensen, Starbucks’ vice president of partner resources, wrote to the union that because it originally insisted on store-by-store elections — rather than the hard-to-win joint election for all Starbucks stores in a city or region — it only made sense to negotiate each store’s contract on the unit.

In a 2008 study, John Paul Ferguson, professor of organizational behavior at McGill University, found that of 8,155 union election victories over a five-year period, union won first contracts in only 56.3% of cases. In a 2009 study, Bronfenbrenner found that after workers won union elections, 52% of the time were without a first contract a year later and 37% were without a contract two years later.

“It’s harder now” to come up with a first decade than it was when he finished school, Ferguson said. “It’s frustrating.” He said that some prominent US companies are showing — when one looks at their anti-union campaigns, the firing of pro-union workers and the closing of facilities that have recently joined unions or have been seeking unionization — intent on never wanting to get first place. a necklace.

“Employers are treating the union’s success in the NLRB election as another setback,” Ferguson said. He said the companies seemed to be thinking: “We’re going to cancel it by refusing to negotiate a contract.”

Bronfenbrenner said there is no real objection to preventing companies from prolonging negotiations indefinitely because federal labor law does not contain financial penalties against companies negotiating in bad faith to delay an agreement. “If Amazon outright refuses to make a deal, there is no legal penalty for them,” he said.

David DeMaria, lead organizer of the mechanics union at the first Apple Store to join a union in the United States, in Towson, Maryland, said he was optimistic that contract negotiations with Apple would proceed smoothly. “They were responsive,” DiMaria said. Assume they intend to negotiate a contract. They have ties with unions in other countries.”

But Trader Joe’s worker Sarah Beth Reither wasn’t too optimistic — her Minneapolis store voted 55-5 to join a union in August, becoming the second Trader Joe’s union. “My expectation is that it will be very difficult to come to a contract,” Reither said. We asked for free and fair elections. Trader Joe didn’t give us that. They were constantly trying to bankrupt the guild.”

A Trader Joe’s spokesperson said that while the company was concerned about “how this new strict legal relationship will affect Trader Joe’s culture, we are ready to immediately begin discussions with a collective bargaining representative to negotiate a contract.”

The burning question for many new union workers is how to get anti-union companies to stop stalling and come to a contract. “It will take strikes and a lot of community support,” said Jazz Brisack, coffee maker and organizer at Starbucks in Buffalo. to bring Starbucks to the negotiating table.” The Starbucks Association laid the groundwork for the boycott, Create “No Contract, No Coffee” In a sign that it would call on supporters across the US to boycott if it concluded Starbucks was deliberately delaying and not compromising in good faith.

Many baristas say Starbucks has sought to make the pain of sluggish negotiations much worse by saying it will give raises and new benefits to its non-union workers, but not newly union workers — a threat the NLRB says constitutes illegal discrimination. against trade union workers.

Bronfenbrenner said Starbucks will be more vulnerable to consumer pressure from Amazon because spending on Starbucks coffee is discretionary. In turn, Amazon has become a giant that tens of millions of consumers feel they cannot live without.

Goldstein said one way to put pressure on Amazon is to pressure local authorities to deny permissions and tax cuts for 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 fierce opposition from society and employment.

But some critics say that compacting one warehouse after another will not be enough. Some would prefer to call on Senator Bernie Sanders to end billions in federal cloud-computing contracts to Amazon unless it stops its “illegal anti-union activity” — whether that is intimidating workers into voting against the union or compromising in bad faith to cancel contract talks.

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