News & Commentary

June 5, 2022

Swap Agrawal

Swap Agrawal is a student at Harvard Law School.

In this weekend’s news and commentary, Workers United alleged that Starbucks illegally retaliated against employees’ union activity by closing a store; New York lawmakers passed a bill targeting Amazon’s use of production quotas in its warehouses; and Microsoft president Brad Smith announced new principles for the company’s engagement with organized labor.

On June 3, Bloomberg reported that the Workers United union filed a complaint with the NLRB accusing Starbucks of illegally shutting down a recently-unionized store. The union claims that Starbucks violated federal labor law by closing down an Ithaca, NY store in retaliation for workers’ union organizing efforts. Meanwhile, Starbucks claims that the closure was due to staffing and attendance issues at the store. Employees at the Ithaca store, which is located near Cornell University’s campus, voted to unionize in April following a one-day strike. Starbucks said that it opens and closes stores “as a regular part” of its operations and that it wants to negotiate with Workers United regarding the closure’s impact on employees. Evan Sunshine, a store employee, said in a statement on behalf of the union that “Starbucks won’t get away with retaliating against us like this.”

On June 3, the New York State Assembly passed the Warehouse Worker Protection Act, a bill targeted at Amazon’s use of production quotas in its warehouses. The bill requires companies that operate warehouses to disclose quotas to workers, notify workers of any changes in expectations, and bars companies from implementing measures that prevent employees from taking breaks. Elected officials on the chamber’s labor committee drafted the bill with the New Yorkers for a Fair Economy coalition, which organized and lobbied to build support in the legislature, and prominent New York labor unions have applauded its passage. Amazon employees and worker advocacy groups, including the Amazon Labor Union, have argued that Amazon’s focus on speed has led to an increase in workplace injuries. New York Gov. Kathy Hotchul has not yet indicated whether she plans to sign the bill into law.

On June 2, Microsoft president Brad Smith published a blog post announcing a new set of principles for the company’s approach to organized labor that “will make it simpler, rather than more difficult” for employees to form a union. The four principles cover: (1) the importance of listening to employees’ concerns, (2) recognition of employees’ legal right to form or join a union, (3) commitment to collaborative approaches with unions when Microsoft is presented with a specific unionization proposal, and (4) a commitment to building on Microsoft’s global labor experiences with work councils in Europe. While Smith argued that employees will “never need to organize to have a dialogue with Microsoft’s leaders,” he also acknowledged that the workplace is changing due to recent unionization campaigns in the tech sector across the country. Smith’s blog post comes on the heels of Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard Inc., which is the home of the first labor union in the U.S. gaming industry. The Communication Workers of America filed an NLRB complaint on Friday alleging that Activision illegally retaliated against employees for their unionization efforts. It remains to be seen whether Microsoft will take a more collaborative approach towards the union in its management of Activision. In the meantime, Microsoft’s preemptive approach is in stark contrast to other major Seattle employers such as Amazon and Starbucks who are fighting tooth and nail against unionization efforts.

Enjoy OnLabor’s fresh takes on the day’s labor news, right in your inbox.