As workers of major companies move to form unions, the political environment for labor could not be more mature.
Perhaps nowhere is more accurate than that of the National Labor Relations Board, the agency that enforces the nation’s labor laws and oversees union elections.
Over the past year, Biden-appointed top prosecutor Jennifer Abruzzo has been seeking to reverse the precedent and revive decades-old labor policies that supporters say would make it easier for workers to form a union. To get his wish, Abruzzo would have to buy from a five-member board, which is expected to be sympathetic to his proposed changes with a Democratic majority. As for President Joe Biden, he has vowed to be “the most pro-Union president” in American history.
“In the past, the focus has been on employer rights or employer interests. And I do not believe this is in line with our congressional mandate,” Abruzzo said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The change Abruzzo seeks has come as employees of major companies including Starbucks, Amazon and most recently Apple, get the victory of the union. But any changes to the agency’s enforcement of labor law are likely to be reversed under a Republican administration and faced fierce resistance from employers in federal courts.
Currently, the agency is in the crosshairs of Amazon, arguing in an NLRB hearing that began last week whether union winnings should be dumped at one of its warehouses in Staten Island, New York. The e-commerce giant claims that labor organizers and the agency acted in a way that spoiled the vote. In one of its 25 objections, the company ignored a lawsuit filed in March by the NLRB’s Brooklyn office seeking to reinstate a fired Amazon worker involved in a union drive.
Abruzzo has said she will “aggressively” seek such measures during her tenure, and may even pursue cases when an employer has merely made threats against workers. The agency has repeatedly taken Starbucks to federal court. Since December, as recently as Tuesday when it asked a court to reinstate seven employees In Buffalo, New York it says it was illegally fired for trying to form a union. Abruzzo says she is also asking field offices to be on the lookout for other threats to workers.
John Logan, director of labor and employment studies at San Francisco State University, said Abruzzo is calling for some changes including policy changes that labor scholars have wanted for years.
“We have a general counsel ready to do things that haven’t been done in the past,” Logan said. “And it’s also doing it in terms of periods of labor organizing that we haven’t seen for decades and decades.”
A career NLRB attorney for more than two decades, Abruzzo rose through the agency’s ranks to serve as deputy general manager under former President Barack Obama. He briefly served as acting general counsel and left the agency for a stint at the Communications Workers of America, one of America’s largest labor unions, during the Trump administration; last year, he was elected to the U.S. Senate with the party. His current role was confirmed. lines.
Arguably, her most significant move since then has come in the NLRB case filed in April, where she asked the Labor Board to reinstate Joy Silk, a mysterious legal principle that could dramatically change the way that generally But how are unions formed in America?
Joy Silk, which was abandoned nearly 50 years ago, would force companies to bargain with a union that garners majority support from workers through authorization cards, rather than going through a lengthy election process. Logan noted that Joy Silk essentially undermines an employer’s ability to run anti-union campaigns in the long run in the lead-up to an election, when unions lose support from workers.
A formal move toward Joy Silk is expected to be hotly contested by businesses and work-to-work groups seeking private-voted elections. Some experts say the polls better capture how workers feel about the union. And a lead-up to a vote usually gives companies time for workers to make their case for why they should reject unionization, which is legal as long as employers comply with labor law.
However, labor activists and pro-union experts argue that some employers use the time to prevent organizing in any way necessary, including mandatory meetings in which they give all the reasons why workers reject unionization. needed.
Although the Labor Board has allowed employers to mandate such meetings for decades, Abruzzo argued in an April memo that it was based on a misunderstanding of employers’ speech rights and should be outlawed. She is demanding to make the meetings voluntary for the workers.
Rep. Virginia Foxx, Republican leader of the House Committee on Education and Labor, slammed Abruzzo shortly after the release of the memo, calling it “an ultra-partisan love letter to unions.”
“Should the NLRB overturn the decades-long precedent and silent jobbers, the consequences would be disastrous,” Foxx said in a statement at the time.
But field offices are following suit. About a month after Abruzzo’s memo was released, the NLRB office in Brooklyn said it found merit in an allegation filed by the Amazon labor union. It accused Amazon of violating labor law at one of its warehouses in Staten Island, New York, by holding mandatory meetings to persuade workers to decline union, adding further bad blood between the company and the agency. .
Mark Nix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said Abruzzo’s quest for more workers’ rights is difficult to take seriously as he seeks to overturn the Trump Labor Board decision, which will make it more difficult for employers in the future. It became easier to suspend bargaining. Contract when they know that a union no longer has the support of the majority.
Abruzzo has indicated that this is one of several decisions he intends to undo from the Trump era, when the cases were run by his predecessor Peter Robb, widely viewed as favoring organized labor and employers by Democrats. was. Biden later fired Robb.
“Hypocrisy is off the charts when you think about employee rights,” Nix said. “When she’s done with the job, she should apply for the lobbyist job at the AFL-CIO, because she’s going far beyond what union officials can imagine.”
Experts say it is too early to know how successful Abruzzo can be in its efforts as the change it is seeking is still veering off its way through the NLRB’s process. Logan, the labor expert, said she has been more aggressive than her Democrat-appointed predecessors but still faces a tougher challenge because the changes she wants are likely to be heavily litigated.
“Unfortunately, it’s not going to help the workers right now,” he said.