News & Commentary

May 22, 2022

Swap Agrawal

Swap Agrawal is a student at Harvard Law School.

In this weekend’s news and commentary, the United Steelworkers union filed charges with the NLRB against Chevron; the Third Circuit ruled that tweets by the publisher of the Federalist were not unlawful threats to workers; and President Biden urged Hyundai to partner with American union workers.

On May 20, the United Steelworkers union (USW) filed charges with the NLRB against Chevron stemming from a strike at the company’s Richmond, California refinery. According to Reuters, the USW alleges that Chevron has changed terms of employment, refused to furnish information, engaged in coercive actions including surveillance, made coercive statements, and refused to bargain with workers at the refinery. B.K. White, first vice president of USW Local 12-5, said no progress has been made in resuming talks with Chevron since the two sides last met across the bargaining table five weeks ago. The dispute has been ongoing since 500 workers at the refinery went on strike on March 21. About 60 of those workers have resumed working, and Chevron continues to operate the refinery with supervisors, managers, and temporary replacement workers. Iman’s previous reporting on this strike can be found here.

On May 20, the Third Circuit held that the NLRB was wrong to rule that the publisher of the Federalist, a conservative online magazine, unlawfully threatened workers by tweeting that he would send them “back to the salt mine” if they tried to unionize. The panel of Republican appointed judges ruled that no reasonable employee would view the employer’s tweet as a plausible threat of reprisal because it was “farcical,” and “[t]hreatening statements are not usually made in bantering terms.” Moreover, the panel argued that “Twitter . . . encourages users to express opinions in exaggerated or sarcastic terms.” The ruling marks a setback in the NLRB’s efforts to crack down on anti-union tweets from high-profile executives, including from Elon Musk and David Portnoy.

On May 21, President Biden encouraged Hyundai’s chief executive Euisun Chung to partner with American union members, arguing that they are “some of the most highly skilled, dedicated and engaged workers in the world.” Hyundai announced on Friday that it is investing $5.5 billion to build an electric vehicle assembly and battery plant that could employ up to 8,100 workers in Savannah, Georgia. However, Georgia is a right-to-work state, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 5.8% of the state’s workforce were members of unions in 2021. President Biden and Democrats have advocated for unionized autoworkers to help lead the electric vehicle transition, but it is unclear whether President Biden’s words will have any impact on Hyundai’s employment decisions.

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