News & Commentary

March 6, 2022

Kevin Vazquez

Kevin Vazquez is a student at Harvard Law School.

On Thursday, tech workers at The New York Times overwhelmingly voted to certify their union – the Times Tech Guild, which is represented by the NewsGuild of New York (which also represents Times editorial workers) – as their exclusive collective bargaining representative in an NLRB election. The Times Tech Guild, which will represent the nearly-600 worker bargaining unit, consisting mostly of engineers, designers, and data analysis, is now officially of the largest tech unions (recognized by the NLRB) in the United States, and its victory could potentially spark a wave of tech organizing throughout the country. The union sought voluntary recognition from The Times in April, but the media giant declined to do so, and the union proceeded through a formal NLRB election. Times workers have said that they are seeking to bargain around issues such as pay, diversity and equity, and more fairness in the workplace – similar to what The Times’ newsroom workers, through the New York Times Guild, are seeking as it bargains a new contract. A Times spokeswoman said that The Times “looked forward” to working with the union and developing a contract.

On Saturday, a report in the Daily Beast details – unsurprisingly – the increasingly extreme measures to which Amazon is resorting to prevent workers in JFK8, one of its Staten Island warehouses, from unionizing ahead of the election later this month. The incidents documented in the article demonstrate that the unraveling union campaign is becoming increasingly ugly – and Amazon is, undeterred, again flirting with the boundaries of labor law. Last week, for example, the NYPD arrested three union organizers – including Chris Smalls – at the warehouse after a manager accused them of trespassing, an exchange that was captured by bystander footage. The company also allegedly sent mass text messages to JFK8 workers, denigrating union organizers and warning the workers that organizers were entering homes “uninvited and unannounced.” Amazon is also reportedly hosting daily captive audience meetings, during which paid anti-union consultants “encourage” workers to vote against ALU – and “warning” them that, if the union wins the election, their pay could be cut to minimum wage (again, narrowly skirting the boundaries of Section 8(a)(1)), and it has created another anti-union website. The union-busting techniques have also, in some instances, included formal internal disciplinary actions against key union organizers employed at the warehouse. An lawyer working for the ALU filed an unfair labor practice charge in response to the arrests, and he’s also filed charges against Amazon for its disciplinary actions against pro-union employees and its captive audience meetings. Of course, as the NLRA’s remedial regime currently operates, Amazon, even if again found to have violated it, might decide that such liability is simply a cost of doing business.

In other news, Elon Musk challenged UAW to hold a union election at Tesla’s Fremont, California factory on Twitter, saying: “I’d like to hereby invite UAW to hold a union vote at their convenience,” and adding that “Tesla will do nothing to stop them.” (Interestingly, though not importantly, Musk’s tweet was posted in response to Gene Simmons, the lead singer of Kiss, who posted his own tweet criticizing Pres. Biden’s failure to mention Tesla in his state of the union, which Simmons ascribed to Tesla’s non-union status. Bloomberg has also claimed that Biden often ignores Tesla, focusing instead on auto manufacturers such as Ford and General Motors, in his speeches and interviews.) In any event, UAW has been attempting to organize Tesla for years, and Musk, despite his tweets to the contrary, has not only resisted and criticized these efforts from the start but also, according to charges brought by the NLRB, “coerced and intimidated” Tesla employees to prevent them from discussing unionization (and illegally fired a union activist, along with other labor law violations). Musk’s tweet, then, might better be read not as expressing a lack of concern for the prospect of unionization – which clearly concerns him – but as instead reflecting his confidence in the company’s ability to defeat a union drive under the NLRA’s unwieldy framework and limited penalties.

Finally, as the war in Ukraine continues to escalate dramatically, a Friday essay published in Jacobin details the ways in which trade unions in Ukraine and across Eastern Europe are helping alleviate the ongoing humanitarian crisis that has resulted, which has already created more than one million refugees. The piece describes how the Confederation of Free Trade Unions in Ukraine (KVPU) has mobilized people wherever possible in the midst of the conflict, helping them flee, organizing bunkers, and providing necessary resources to those who remain. Internationally, the response from organized labor has been similar: the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) have developed support funds to purchase food, water, medical supplies, and hygienic items, and union confederations in neighboring countries – such as Moldova, Hungary, Poland, and Romania – have organized to provide for and welcome refugees in their countries, often at great personal risk or expense to themselves. These examples, while tragic and devastating, demonstrate that the mutual aid and solidary exhibited by and embodied within the labor movement extend far beyond collective bargaining contracts and workplace grievances alone, and they are a reminder of the promise offered by organized labor to create a better world and combat displacement, oppression, and injustice in all its forms.

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