News & Commentary

January 12, 2022

Jason Vazquez

Jason Vazquez is a student at Harvard Law School.

The Regional Director of Region 10 of the National Labor Relations Board issued a notice on Tuesday setting a date for the rerun union election at the Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. According to the notice, the election will begin on February 4, when the NLRB will mail ballots to all employees in the bargaining unit, and the votes will be counted on March 28. The election will be conducted, once again, via secret ballot by mail.

The nearly 6,000 workers at the Bessemer facility made national and international headlines early last year when they voted in the first union election in Amazon history, and though the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) lost by a vote of 1,798 to 738, the NLRB ordered a second election after finding that Amazon had “interfered with the employees’ exercise of a free and reasoned choice” and “made a free and fair election impossible” by convincing the Post Office to install a mailbox right outside of the warehouse entrance, creating the impression that the company was monitoring the voting process.

Perhaps recognizing that their prospects may be grim — unions tend to lose rerun elections — RWDSU expressed, in a statement released yesterday, that they were “deeply concerned” that Amazon would continue its “objectionable behavior” in the new election, and complained that the Labor Board had declined to order “a number of remedies” proposed by the union “that could have made the process fairer for workers.” Indeed, a second election will not undo the relentless and unlawful assault that Amazon launched against the unionization campaign in Bessemer, including shelling out thousands of dollars a day to union avoidance law firms and anti-union consultants.

In other union news, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, which represents nearly 25,000 workers in Colorado and Wyoming, rejected the “last, best, and final offer” proposed by King Soopers, the largest grocery store chain in Colorado and a subsidiary of supermarket giant the Kroger Company, setting the stage for a three-week strike involving nearly ten thousand workers at 78 locations across the state, slated to begin at 5 a.m. MT this morning. The two sides have been negotiating a new contract for months, and the most recent collective bargaining agreement between them expired on January 8. The union, which had already rejected several previous offers from King Soopers, deemed this “last, best, and final offer,” which proposed to increase wages by up to $4.50 an hour, to be “worse than its previous offers.”

The tensions are particularly high. UFCW Local 7 filed a lawsuit against King Soopers late last month in federal district court, alleging that the company had breached the then-current collective bargaining agreement by subcontracting bargaining unit work to third-party staffing services. On Monday, the company responded by filing an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB, accusing the union of refusing to bargain in good faith, in violation of § 8(d) of the NLRA.

That a union would feel sufficiently emboldened to reject a several dollar per hour wage increase for its members seems to represent the shifting balance of power in American workplaces in the wake of the pandemic and the rare leverage over their employers that many workers are currently enjoying.

Last week, Delta Air Lines issued a cease-and-desist letter to the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA), the nation’s largest flight attendant union, after its president, Sara Nelson, claimed that the airline had instructed its employees to come to work even if they had been exposed to Covid and were experiencing symptoms, which Delta’s chief legal officer labeled “false” and “defamatory.” The union responded yesterday and insisted that Nelson’s statements were “truthful and accurate.”

The news comes on the heels of the revelation, a couple weeks ago, that Delta Air Lines had sent a letter late last year to the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), after staffing shortages forced it to cancel thousands of flights during the holiday season, requesting a shorter isolation period for those infected with Covid, which the agency granted a few days later, angering many flight attendants and perplexing many public health officials. Delta remains the largest U.S. air carrier with a nonunionized cabin crew, though AFA-CWA, which does not currently represent Delta’s flight crew, launched an organizing drive at the airline in 2019.

Finally, in political news, President Joe Biden (D) delivered a powerful speech on Tuesday urging the Senate to amend the filibuster and enact legislation protecting voting rights. Invoking dire rhetoric throughout the speech, Biden deemed this to be a “defining moment in American history” and declared that “the threat to our democracy is so grave” that Congress “must find a way to pass these voting rights bills,” referring to the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Calling himself an “institutionalist,” Biden blasted the Senate as “a shell of its former self” due to the filibuster’s having been “weaponized and abused,” and professed his support for “changing the Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed.” The President criticized the dozens of voter suppressions laws enacted by Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country in recent months, remarking that if “state legislatures can pass anti-voting laws with simple majorities,” then “the United States Senate should be able to protect voting rights by a simple majority.”

After the speech, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) tweeted that the Senate will move to protect the right to vote “as soon as tomorrow,” saying during an interview on Tuesday that meetings have been going on with Senators Manchin (D-WV) and Sinema (D-AZ), who, seemingly not satisfied with killing Build Back Better, have both expressed their opposition to altering the filibuster.

Reacting to the speech, Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC), after first reaching across the aisle to praise Manchin and Sinema, called voter suppression a “manufactured issue,” and Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) claimed that the repressive law recently enacted in his state, which, among other things, slashed the period during which voters may request an absentee ballot, virtually eliminated drop boxes and mobile voting centers, imposed strict ID requirements, and even outlawed offering food or water to voters waiting in line, actually makes it easier for people vote, and the Biden Administration is merely lying in an effort to force an “unconstitutional, federal takeover of elections on the American people.” It is indeed a curious moment in political history, where leaders of one of the country’s major political parties seem to be willfully existing in an alternate, and fictional, reality. In any event, many major unions have in recent days conveyed their support for federal voting rights legislation.

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