News & Commentary

October 16, 2022

Kevin Vazquez

Kevin Vazquez is a student at Harvard Law School.

In this weekend‘s News & Commentary, Apple retail employees in Oklahoma City unionize; the Amazon union vote near Albany is underway; and a WaPo profile on NLRB’s admirably ambitious General Counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo.

In another major victory for workers and the labor movement, Apple retail employees at an Oklahoma City store became the second store to unionize after the NLRB tallied ballots on Friday night, joining the Communications Workers of America (CWA) by a vote of 56-32. The CWA’s victory follows a successful organizing campaign by the International Association of Machinists at an Apple store in Maryland in June of this year. CWA, however, is not resting on its laurels: the union has said that it is in contact with Apple retail workers across the country who are interested in organizing, and it also filed a union petition at another Apple location, in Atlanta (though it has since withdrawn the latter petition, citing alleged misconduct by Apple). Employees at the Oklahoma City store said that they developed an organizing committee of about 20 workers, which managed to sign up approximately 70% of the workforce in less than a week prior to petitioning the Board for an election. The CWA now faces the challenging task of bargaining for a contract with Apple—the satisfactory resolution of which, as the Amazon Labor Union (ALU)’s experience has demonstrated, is by no means a foregone conclusion.

Apple, for its part, has made its position on—i.e., opposition to—unions evident, and the CWA has filed various ULP charges against the company with the Board for its conduct during the union campaigns, which have included captive audience meetings and video messages to employees from upper-management. Earlier this month, the agency’s General Counsel, Jennifer Abruzzo, issued a complaint against Apple, which accused the company of unlawfully interrogating employees at a New York City store and discriminating against union supporters through selective enforcement of its no-solicitation policy, though Apple denies these allegations. Moreover, last week, Apple, in a move reminiscent of Starbucks’ similar ploy last month, increased retail employees’ wages and boosted their benefits in all stores except the single unionized shop in Maryland.

Elsewhere in New York, the ALU will face another daunting test this week: six months after its victory in Staten Island, 800 workers at a warehouse near Albany will decide whether to authorize the ALU as their collective bargaining representative in an NLRB election that began on Wednesday. Many workers who are supporting the union referenced safety concerns, low pay, and the arduous nature of the work as the primary factors giving rise to their support. New workers at the warehouse, for example, which is designed to handle oversize items, make a base salary of $15.70 per hour, only slightly more than the minimum wage in Albany. The vote will take place over four days, concluding the following Monday, in what could well prove a pivotal moment for the fledgling ALU—which has in recent times appeared to struggle under the weight of its precipitous victory in April. Last week, the union also submitted a petition to the NLRB for an election to represent Amazon workers at a warehouse near Los Angeles, though the Board has not yet weighed in on the petition.

Finally, on Saturday, the Washington Post profiled General Counsel Abruzzo—in the Post’s words, “the lawyer who could deliver on Biden’s wish to be the most pro-union president.” The article delves deeply into Abruzzo’s life and career, exploring her upbringing in a union household in Queens (including an anecdotal Richard Nixon encounter), her time in law school as a young single mother, and her 25-year career at the NLRB, which began in Miami shortly after her graduation.

Abruzzo, as the article notes, is distinct from many of her General Counsel predecessors in her lengthy tenure working for the agency prior to her appointment to the top job. Indeed, her brief time as General Counsel has thus far proven as unusual as her route to the position: in little more than a year on the job, Abruzzo has penned momentous memoranda directing NLRB field attorneys to resurrect moribund doctrines and invoke rarely utilized legal tools to assist workers seeking to organize and unions seeking to bargain, in addition to beefing up the consequences imposed on employers who violate the NLRA.

Abruzzo’s period as General Counsel has, of course, come at a pivotal time for workers and the labor movement: she assumed the helm at the height of the pandemic, when many workers were expressing their increasing dissatisfaction with their unsatisfactory and unsafe working conditions by quitting or going on strike, and her tenure has since born witness to a veritable revitalization of the labor movement, led by independent unions successfully organizing at companies such as Amazon, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, and Apple, as detailed above. For a detailed and fascinating look into Abruzzo, her career, and her time as General Counsel, check out the full profile here.

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