United States of Labour: A Week in Labour World
The midterms were the major topic on the news agenda for the past weeks, but now that things are more or less finalized, the attention turned back to the labor movement.
On the November 21st, the two major freight railway unions (62.000 members) are voting on whether or not to ratify the contract. Already three other unions have turned down the contract which amplifies the fears of a strike.
Striking during a company’s holiday
On the 17th of November, Starbucks’ workers went on strike simultaneously at 100 different locations. The strike coincided with the Red Cup Day, a once-a-year celebration during which the coffee giant hands out reusable plastic cups. The workers have kept on organizing, despite the employer’s efforts of thwarting any unionization effort. Starbucks closed down some of its stores, such as this one in Staten Island, after workers went forward with the unionization process. Nevertheless, there are unfair labor practice complaints against the employer, and every week there are new ones coming in fresh. In May 2022, there were at least 200 labor violations.
While Starbucks workers are fighting to organize more stores, there are still elections that last a long time. In theory, if workers want to form a union, they can either ask the employer to voluntarily recognize them, or an official election with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) must take place. Most employers, afraid of workers demanding higher pay, conditions and more safety on the job, go down the latter path which in some cases can take up to a year. After the election is finalized, then the negotiation must take place, which in the case of five Starbucks stores were brought to a standstill, after the company’s lawyers walked off the meeting in six minutes. Workers sit through hour-long meetings where they are reassured about the family aspect of their job, but the employers cannot last more than six minutes.
Twitter is melting and Europe pushes harder
On the employment front, the recent Twitter layoffs started conversations about the easiness in firing workers in the United States. More than half of the workforce was fired, with some receiving e-mails stating that their employment contract is terminated. Elon applied the similar tactic to European workers, but the process fell through and now there are allegedly lawsuits against him. While he is still busy with the firing-frenzy, the European regulators instructed Elon that the company must add moderators in Europe.
Prior to a couple of days ago, if there was a sexual harassment case unfolding in the office, and workers went public about something they saw or experienced, they could have been fired if their contract included a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). An NDA basically prevents an employee from disclosing confidential information about their employer for a specific period of time. It is not uncommon for those to have an indefinite period of time.
The bill that prohibits those NDAs is known as Speak Out Act and is similar to laws that were previously passed in California, New Jersey and New York. Even though this comes as a victory for working people seeking justice for the wrongdoings they experienced, the culture of silence will not be overthrown over night. Workers still face that when they speak publicly, they will experience retaliation, either being fired or losing other prospects of future employment.
NLRB does not have enough money
In order to ensure that retaliation does not happen, the National Labor Relations Board can step in and target those employers that act in bad-faith. They have done it with Starbucks, with Chipotle that has closed down the store in Augusta, Maine after a successful unionizing drive, but now they are facing a standstill.
For years, the governmental agency has been asking for more money in order to do their job accordingly, but its under-funding was necessary to a project of diminishing the labor power. Without giving enough money, less labor inspections happened, elections took a longer time to process and the trust in the institution could have slowly declined. Of course a government agency does not work, when you do not offer it enough funding. Nowadays, the NLRB says that furloughs are likely, unless it receives a cash injuction.
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