May 7, 2022
New Orleans Labor Secretary Martin Walsh, also former Mayor of Boston and a union leader before his election and appointment to the cabinet, started his remarks in a refreshing Boston brogue with a laughing jab at the president of Georgetown University as he touted being a graduate of Holy Cross instead. The joke partially worked because Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen had given an earlier shoutout about his two daughters both having been Georgetown alums. At a John J. Sweeny memorial celebration being Irish and Catholic got you way more than halfway home with the crowd.
Walsh made a more important point. He noted that earlier in the day he had been at the White House with President Biden, yes, another Irish Catholic, but, luckily, that was not his point. His point was how Sweeney and all of the rest of us, as union people, would have loved being there with him and the president because they had been meeting with a half-dozen rank-and-file organizers who were part of this movement moment we are having now. Organizers had been there from Amazon, Starbucks, REI, and other locations that have been in the news. Maybe it was a cheap thrill, but Walsh was right, it was exciting to hear about worker organizers in a meeting in the White House and not just suit-and-tie union DC big dogs.
President Biden continues to lay down the line about wanting to be the most pro-union president ever, and that’s also a good thing, although to be fair, there’s not a lot of competition in that race in my opinion. Having Vice President Kamala Harris head up a task force on worker organizing might just be another headline grab, but that’s a good and unusual thing as well.
Chris Smalls, the leader of the nascent Amazon Labor Union, that is now hitting .500 in elections with the company, reportedly asked Biden for help in pressuring Amazon to recognize the union and get with bargaining. The White House people pushed that over to the NLRB of course, but good for Brother Smalls to take his best shot when he had the ball.
The more substantive story than all of this solidarity forever at the White House thing was the news that the NLRB is preparing to issue a complaint that mandatory captive audience meetings at Amazon are an unfair labor practice. The NLRB General Counsel in an earlier memo had advertised the fact that this was coming, and it is very welcome news, even though Amazon will cry about it like a stuck pig. Sure, they’ll find another way to coerce and intimidate workers during an election using one-on-one meetings and voluntary meetings, where workers will worry that they will be targeted if they don’t show up, but a win is a win.
Walsh, Biden, and Harris beating the drum for unions is a good thing. It won’t win union elections or get authorization cards signed, but every little bit helps. The NLRB, carrying a bigger stick and not just shuffling papers and flipping the months on the calendar to aid company delays, has even more significance. Put all of this together with some work in the field, and we might really have something to celebrate.