News & Commentary

April 14, 2022

Anita Alem

Anita Alem is a student at Harvard Law School.

As eight Starbucks locations have had NLRB-certified union elections, with more than 200 filing paperwork to engage in a vote, CEO Howard Schultz has announced that Starbucks may be offering certain new benefits only to non-unionized workers. The Wall Street Journal reported that Schultz stated Starbucks cannot unilaterally change the compensation of unionized workers, so extending the benefits to them would be illegal. He also took the opportunity to note that “[p]eople who might be voting for a union don’t really understand, let alone the dues they are going to pay.” Starbucks Workers United had stated in late March that it anticipated Starbucks would soon announce new benefits to undermine worker organizing efforts.

On Wednesday, a federal court dismissed a proposed class-action lawsuit challenging Amazon’s marijuana screening policy under New York City law, which prohibits marijuana testing as a condition of employment. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York found that Amazon “sortation associates” qualified under an exception in the law for workers operating heavy machinery, as the job involves heavy objects and working with a conveyor belt that presents a hazard. Earlier this week, a report by the Strategic Organizing Center analyzing OSHA data found that Amazon warehouse workers are injured at twice the rate of other warehouse workers, and made up 49% of all U.S. warehouse worker injuries in 2021 even though they constitute only 33% of all warehouse workers.

Bloomberg Law reported that one lawyer had been fired and another resigned from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) due to the management of a discrimination lawsuit against Activision Blizzard Inc. While Chief Counsel Jeanette Wipper was fired earlier this year, the assistant chief counsel to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, Melanie Proctor, resigned on Tuesday. Procter alleged that California Governor Gavin Newsom had interfered with the suit, a claim that Newsom’s office denies. The EEOC recently settled with Activision for $18 million in a similar lawsuit.

This week has also seen movement in organizing and labor action. Several workers at Amy’s Kitchen, a Bay Area-based vegan- and vegetarian-friendly frozen and packaged food brand that recently gained B corp status, have called for a boycott over safety concerns. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a Cal/OSHA complaint alleged a hazardous and life-threatening work environment. Amy’s Kitchen owner Andy Berliner said he would welcome a union vote and that the company plans to invest $50 million in increased safety protections over the next five years. Graduate workers at Indiana University began a recognition strike on Wednesday to pressure the administration to recognize the union. The union has stated it is committed to striking at least until April 19. New York City building service workers are also aiming to reach a deal covering 32,000 workers such as doorpersons and porters, with the Realty Board on Labor Relations. City building service workers began a vote on Wednesday on whether to call for a strike if necessary.

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