News & Commentary

April 11, 2023

Lewit Gemeda

Lewit Gemeda is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s news and commentary, workers in Wisconsin protest Energizer’s plans to close its Fennimore plant, Apple increases its anti-union efforts at its retail locations, and major U.S. unions saw their membership grow amid a tight labor market. 

Workers in Wisconsin and union leaders across the country called for a boycott of Energizer (the battery manufacturer), which announced plans to close plants in Wisconsin and move jobs to Singapore, the UK, and one non-union plant in North Carolina. Teamster union leaders called for a protest boycott and have been using the hashtag #BadBunny to raise awareness of the company’s actions. Workers at the Wisconsin plants were informed that Energizer planned to shut down the plants and cut 600 jobs through a short statement from the company in December. The decision to move jobs offshore comes despite Energizer’s strong financial performance over the last year. The company grossed $1.1 billion in 2022 and paid $93 million to shareholders through dividends. Moreover, as Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) points out, Energizer’s plans to close the plants came after the company requested federal funds for R&D on top of the $10 million in public subsidies the company has received in six states since 1999.

Next, Apple has increased its attempts to stop its 270 retail stores from unionizing. Over the last two weeks, managers at Apple’s retail locations have reportedly held meetings with workers to discuss the challenges of unionization and give an update on bargaining between Apple and its first unionized store in Maryland. The efforts to discourage unionization may be working as only two Apple stores (in Maryland and in Oklahoma) have unionized, and efforts to organize stores in Atlanta and St. Louis have receded. In the meetings held across stores, Apple issued a prepared message that told workers that the unionized stores in Maryland were requesting dues that were close to 1.5% of workers’ pay, prioritizing full-time employees and employees with a longer tenure. Managers also suggested that unions could make unilateral changes—echoing comments made by Apple’s retail Chief Deirdre O’Brien last year—and explained the unionization process in a way that sought to “pour cold water on the idea.” 

Lastly, several major U.S unions reported double-digit growth in 2022 while employers were experiencing a stiffer labor market. Those reporting double-digit gains includes the Teamsters (20%), the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (11%), and Workers United (10%). However, the gains and losses could be overstated as some unions belong to federations that have to submit federal disclosures, meaning there could be some double counting. Regardless, the annual disclosures made to the U.S Department of Labor show that 26 out of 52 groups surveyed saw their membership increase, a positive outlook for unionization. 

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