News & Commentary

October 19, 2021

Jon Levitan

Jon Levitan is a student at Harvard Law School and a member of the Labor and Employment Lab.

In response to the historic unionization drive in Buffalo, Starbucks management has seemingly launched a “counteroffensive … intended to intimidate workers, disrupt normal operations and undermine support for the union.” Starbucks headquarters has sent two managers—imported from out of state—into three Buffalo area stores that have separately filed for union elections with the NLRB. Michelle Eisen, a barista at one of the stores outside managers have descended upon, said they were intimidating. “For a lot of newer baristas, it’s an imposing force…. It is not an easy job. It should not be complicated further by feeling like you’re having everything you’re doing or saying watched and listened to.” 

By sending in management just after a union has filed for an election, Starbucks could be violating labor law by destroying the “laboratory conditions” required by the NLRB for a free and fair election. Wilma Liebman, Chairwoman of the Board during the Obama administration, said that sending in new management right before an election could be “part of an overall series of events that seems to create a tendency that people would be chilled or inhibited,” which would trigger a finding that Starbucks prevented a fair election. If the Board does find as such, they would likely order a new election under existing case law. It does not appear that Starbucks Workers United made a bargaining demand before it filed for elections at the three stores; if it had, this would have been a perfect test case for Jennifer Abruzzo to attempt to reinstate the Joy Silk, which would have required the NLRB to issue a bargaining order any time an employer commits an Unfair Labor Practice during an election campaign after the union has made a bargaining demand. 

Two bills are currently pending in the New York State legislature that would decriminalize sex work. For The New York Times, Cecilia Gentili, the founder of Transgender Equity Consulting and a former sex worker, wrote an OpEd arguing why one bill—the Stop the Violence in the Sex Trades bill, sponsored by State Senator Julia Salazar—should be supported over its competitor—the Sex Trade Survivors Justice and Equality Act, sponsored by State Senator Liz Krueger. Gentili implores the legislature to back Salazar’s bill because it would decriminalize the entire sex work industry, from sex workers, to managers, to clients; the Krueger bill, meanwhile, would only decriminalize sex workers themselves, but clients and managers would still face criminal liability. Gentili argues that “the best way to help sex workers [is] not to decriminalize only their actions but also those of their clients. The legal pressure that clients face is absorbed by sex workers: A smaller client base means lower wages and poorer working conditions, with clients who are more likely to act in ways that make sex workers’ lives more difficult.”

More Perfect Union has released a tracker that follows what national politicians have said about ongoing strikes, with a focus on what politicians in states where major strikes are ongoing have said about those (for example, the tracker follows Iowa, Illinois, and Kansas politicians’ comments on the John Deere strike). The most entertaining entry is almost certainly Senator Chuck Grassley’s tweet on the Deere strike. The tweet, verbatim, reads: “For many yrs I was a factory worker & union member & did go on strike as a part of that experience The Deere workers & their families now face a stressful situation I hope good faith bargaining can bring the dispute 2swift conclusion for the good of all parties & our Iowa economy.”

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