News & Commentary

March 4, 2022

Hannah Finnie

Hannah Finnie is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

Despite company attempts to quash a unionizing effort, the first REI location in the U.S. has overwhelmingly voted to unionize. Eighty-eight workers at an REI in Manhattan voted in favor of unionizing, with 14 opposed. As previously mentioned on this blog, the outdoor/adventure retailer took somewhat of an odd stance against the union, given both its general progressive leanings and its own business model as a coop with its customers (both of which are discussed here). The company released a recorded conversation between its CEO and its chief diversity and social impact manager that used many progressive phrases and terminology, while also discouraging the unionization. REI may be concerned, like Starbucks, that once one location unionizes, other locations will be inspired to follow suit. Since the first Starbucks location unionized just months ago, over 100 have since filed to vote on unionizing. While REI is a smaller company than Starbucks, it does have around 170 stores and 15,000 employees nationwide, according to the New York Times. (Relatedly, Starbucks’ legal efforts to stop stores from unionizing have been largely unsuccessful, with the NLRB repeatedly ruling in favoring of allowing stores to vote to authorize a union if they want).

Over in Madison, Wisconsin, the city is trying to narrow the size of the Metro’s union, removing its payroll and transit operation departments from union coverage. The city’s argument, according to a local labor writer and activist, seems to center on the fact that since these roles were permitted into the bargaining unit nearly 50 years ago, technology has changed the information they have access to, and they now have access to confidential information. The general rules for those who can be excluded from a union are those with executive decision-making authority (such as hiring and firing power, not necessarily just managing direct reports), and those whose jobs give them access to confidential information. The data that these workers now have access to that should turn them into confidential employees, according to the city, is pay and time off data – though, as the local labor writer’s article points out, the union likely already has access to wage data, so the confidentiality of the information is not truly what’s at issue here. If the city is successful in redrawing the lines of the bargaining unit and cutting out Metro’s payroll and transit operations departments from the union, four to six workers would be left without union protections.

Nationwide, a new piece from the Washington Post details a trend of workers asking for raises in light of rising inflation. With inflation at decades-long highs and workers enjoying a tighter-than-average labor market that results in more leverage for worker demands than in recent years, some workers (and some unions) are citing inflation to justify their requests for raises.

Finally, in Ontario, a new minimum wage law for gig workers has been introduced that would set the minimum wage at $15, but labor organizers and gig workers say doesn’t do enough. Specifically, because the minimum wage would only apply to time spent actively on assignments and not time spent waiting for assignments, the $15 minimum would only kick in some of the time. One labor lawyer compared the structure to a cashier only getting paid for time when a customer was at their till.

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