New Orleans Make no mistake, even though this may be a movement moment for workers and the NLRB may actually be enforcing the letter and spirit of US labor laws for a change, there’s still nothing easy for workers when they try to traverse the minefields of a certification election at their workplace.
One of the latest reminders is the withdrawal by the Communications Workers before their scheduled election at an Apple retail store outside of Atlanta. The exhilaration of the Amazon Labor Union’s victory at the large Staten Island, New York warehouse was partially deflated by a drubbing at a smaller facility some weeks later. Starbucks has seen more than sixty union election victories in their smaller units, while sustaining one controversial loss that’s still uncertain, making it look a bit easier than it really is.
Not that it’s easy at all. Even in the one Starbucks that the union seemed to lose in Buffalo, after challenges by the union over unfair election activity when they filed objections, the NLRB is now seeking a Gissel bargaining order demanding that the company recognize and negotiate with the union because the laboratory conditions for an election are so soiled that the workers would not be able to vote fairly. This could stretch out for years in the way of these court maneuvers, and often unions decide to go ahead and refile for an election rather than waiting, if the numbers seem to move back their way. At least this is more proof that the NLRB is on the job.
The CWA-Apple withdrawal was more a classic union election conundrum. They filed strong with over 70%, which is what every organizer wants on signed union authorization cards to put themselves in the best position to win. Then there’s the campaign, when the company takes the field after the organizing drive has often hit its peak at the filing before the NLRB. Apple seems to have gone hard. The union and its organizing committee could sense erosion of support when their equivalent of what we call “button days”, which allow supporters to become public, in this case wearing a “Stronger Together” wristband, flopped and no one wore them for fear of retaliation. The union did the right thing to withdraw rather than take a possible defeat, since two other Apple elections are pending, one at Grand Central in New York City, and the other in Towson, Maryland. Apple has announced that it is raising wages from $20 to $22 per hour, and that it pays higher than other retail jobs, and such announcements might be unfair labor practices in and of themselves, if they occurred during the critical period after filing and before the election date.
Winning a union is hard in the NLRB process. The company always has the upper hand and, usually, control of the workplace. Even a real NLRB enforcing the law doesn’t mean the road is easier. Workers need to remember that a union is really built by their decision to come together and act collectively, which is not something that the NLRB can certify or the company can decide through recognition. Elections simply may not always be the best path to power for workers in many cases.