In the midst of the historic re-run union election at the Amazon packaging facility in Bessemer, Alabama—ballots were mailed out a few weeks ago and the election remains open until the end of this month—a handful of workers at the plant who voted against the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) spoke with Buzzfeed News yesterday  and expressed concern that union representation and collective bargaining  would threaten their current payrate and benefits. These workers’ concerns appear to demonstrate the effectiveness of the anti-union propaganda with which employers bombard their employees in the run-up to a representation election, including captive audience meetings, which RWDSU accused the e-commerce giant of holding in Unfair Labor Practice charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board last month, as I documented at the time. A union organizer in Bessemer explained to Buzzfeed that Amazon has been using tactics designed to scare and confuse employees, which has resulted in some being “afraid of losing pay, afraid of losing benefits, or their job”—one anti-union worker told Buzzfeed that “as Amazon currently stands, employee raises [and] overtime are excellent, and I would hate to jeopardize what has definitely been the most reliable and financially stabilizing job I’ve had.” Pro-union workers at the plant have been laboring to convince their more skeptical colleagues that securing a union will help, not harm, them. Hopefully these workers inform their colleagues about the wage premium, employer-sponsored health care, grievance procedures, just-cause dismissal, and countless other benefits that flow from a collective bargaining agreement.

On Tuesday night, the Senate passed, 79-19, the bipartisan Postal Service Reform Act of 2022 (H.R. 3076) (the “Reform Act”), which was approved by the House of Representatives last month. The legislation has received support from all four postal unions—in press releases, the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC), which represents more than 270,000 active letter carriers, called passage of the bill “a monumental victory for letter carriers,” and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU), representing more than 220,000 USPS employees, deemed the bill “one of the most critical pieces of postal legislation in modern history.”

The United States Postal Service (USPS), explicitly authorized by the Constitution, is one of the oldest federal administrative agencies, created in 1792 by the Postal Service Act (39 U.S.C. § 101) which was signed into law by President George Washington. Today, the Postal Service employs more than half a million workers and delivers, on average, 167 million pieces of mail a day.  The Reform Act, which will now be sent to President Biden’s desk for signature, is intended “to provide stability to and enhance the services of the United States Postal Service” and has been touted as a sweeping overhaul of the USPS’s finances, which, unlike most federal agencies, does not receive congressional appropriations beyond its revenue and has been losing billions of dollars a year. Reform legislation has been sought for years, as the Postal Service has begun shuttering offices and slowing deliveries. Though they say we live in the Digital Age, millions of Americans—especially (though not exclusively) the rural, the poor, and the disabled—continue to rely on the Postal Service’s mail delivery for commercial and legal correspondence, government notices, prescription medication, even voting, and many other things. The Postal Service retains a legal monopoly over letter delivery (18 U.S.C. § 1696), originally conferred by the Postal Act of 1845, and the Service is obligated by law to serve all mail delivery points and postal addresses throughout the country and charge the same fee to all users, while profit-seeking private shipping corporations, such as UPS and Amazon, often fail to reach rural communities or impose rural surcharges.

More specifically, the Reform Act requires eligible retired USPS employees to enroll in Medicare and repeals the healthcare funding mandate imposed by the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006, which obliged the USPS to annually prefund retiree healthcare liabilities decades in advance and the USPS Inspector General wrote in 2015 was the direct cause of the Service’s debt. According to the House Oversight Committee, these two provisions are projected to save the USPS approximately $50 billion over the next decade. Additionally, the Reform Act removes billions in past-due postal liabilities and includes timely-delivery transparency requirements. Though the legislation has been celebrated by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, others, such as Paul Steidler at the Lexington Institute, insist that the bill is “woefully insufficient” and “skirts the toughest and most important issues in postal reform.” Indeed, the Reform Act is a product of narrow bipartisan compromise, and it leaves untouched major looming concerns about the future of the Service.  

The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that online ridesharing gig firms Uber Technologies, Lyft, DoorDash, and others are launching a one million dollar media advocacy campaign in Washington, D.C. to head off the efforts of Democratic lawmakers to classify their drivers as employees rather than independent contractors, which exempts such workers from a host of benefits and protections furnished by employment laws and prevents them from joining unions. The campaign in the Capitol mirrors other massive media operations bankrolled by the gig-economy-driving industry in California, New York, Massachusetts, and elsewhere in recent years.

In local news, the Harvard Crimson reports that two unions representing workers here at Harvard—the 80-member Harvard University Security, Parking, and Museum Guards Union (HUSPMGU) and the 5,000-member Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW)—are again seeking a merger, which has failed three times before in the last few years. This time around, however, the unions are backed by the support of two local politicians, Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui and Boston City Councilor Elizabeth Breadon. Last week, the unions submitted a petition to the University signed by more than a hundred members, accompanied by statements of support from Siddiqui and Breadon, demanding that the University allow the unions to merge. Additionally, the unions plan to hold rallies in Harvard Square in the coming weeks.

Finally, in this week’s union election news, 280 production and maintenance workers in Texas on Monday filed a union representation petition with the NLRB to join the United Steelworkers, and 350 hospital workers at the University of Vermont Medical center filed a petition on Tuesday to unionize with the Service Employees International Union.