News & Commentary

October 27, 2022

Anita Alem

Anita Alem is a student at Harvard Law School.

In today’s News & Commentary, union elections return to in-person rather than mail-in, a win for anti-union employers; Amazon CEO faces an NLRB complaint over his public comments about unionization; a rail strike could be on the way as a second union votes down the tentative railway agreement; more workers with disabilities are reportedly able to find employment. 

According to Bloomberg, since the beginning of 2020, the NLRB conducted almost 75% of union elections by mail to accommodate for the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the NLRB has signaled that it is returning to primarily in-person elections at the employer’s site, as seven upcoming elections will occur primarily via in-person voting with some accommodation for remote workers. The NLRB, following the CDC’s lead, had previously determined whether to conduct mail-in elections as a function, in part, of community transmission rates; however, as of late September, this factor has been swapped out with hospitalization rates, which are far lower. Unions won in 76% of mail-in elections compared to 68% of in-person elections, an increase that unions attribute to coercion from being on home turf. Employers, however, argue that mail-in elections decrease turnout and lack typical NLRB election monitoring protections.

The NLRB has also filed unfair labor practice charges against Amazon regarding CEO Andy Jassy’s public comments. In two interviews in April and June, following Amazon Labor Union’s win at Amazon’s Staten Island facility, Jassy stated that the union would make things slower, more bureaucratic, and make it more difficult for employees to have a direct relationship with management. 

A second railroad union, the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, has rejected the tentative rail union agreement reached in mid-September in a 60%-40% vote, signaling that a strike may be incoming. The BRS president stated that workers are disappointed with the lack of good-faith bargaining regarding paid time off proposals. Negotiations will now continue between BRS and the National Carriers Conference Committee until December 4. However, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, the first union to reject the deal, could go on strike as early as November 19. The BMWED represents nearly 24,000 members, and the BRS, more than 10,000, out of 115,000 railway workers nationwide across 12 unions, six of which have already ratified the deal. 

The New York Times reports that the percentage of people with disabilities who are employed  has increased significantly compared to pre-pandemic levels, with rates of increase higher than those of people without disabilities. The increase may be a result of greater openness to remote work accommodations after the pandemic, although disability rights advocates have notably been proponents of such accommodations for decades, as well as pressure on employers from a tight labor market. Nearly two million adults have also recently become disabled due to long COVID.

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