Roundup: Workers' Rights News

Legal News

Supreme Court Hears Critical Case Threatening the Sanctity of Strike Rights: In January, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Glacier Northwest Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 174, a case that could reverse the longstanding doctrine preempting state court cases for employer property damaged in the course of a strike.

The current controlling case, San Diego Trades Council v. Garmon, broadly states that federal preemption holds whenever the strike is classified as concerted protected activity and in all but the most reckless of cases when union action results in property damage.

The legal effort to water down the Garmon standard is supported by corporate interest groups and has the potential to severely hurt union rights and the fiscal health of organizations that represent workers.

The court’s liberal minority judges hinted in their questioning at their opposition to the legal challenge to the longstanding precedent, pointing out that inflicting economic damage on employers is the only tool labor unions have at their disposal. “When we start focusing on intent, without more, it pulls in pretty much every strategic decision that a union makes as to when to conduct a work stoppage,” Justice Kagan said.

With a conservative and decidedly anti-union majority in place on the court, Glacier Northwest is likely to join the ranks of cases like Janus v. AFSCME and Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid, both of which went in favor of employers and have helped push the labor movement further towards powerlessness.

Organizing and Strike News

Bureau of Labor Statistics Annual Report Dampens Union Optimism: A report released on January 19 from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions fell between 2021 and 2022 from 10.3 percent to 10.1 percent. These sobering statistics act as a reminder of the overall state of the collective labor movement after a year characterized by optimism engendered by record public support for unions and high profile organizing drives, for example at Starbucks. The public sector remains more unionized than the private sector (33.1 percent compared to 6.0 percent) and black workers are more likely to be union members than their White, Asian, or Hispanic colleagues.

Amazon Labor Union Receives Official Certification: After an NLRB ballot count in April, 2022 that registered a majority of workers at a Staten Island Amazon Fulfillment Center supporting the Amazon Labor Union, the union was officially certified by the Board’s 28-regional director as the bargaining representative for the 8000-person facility in January 2023. The ruling imposes a duty on the company to bargain in good faith with ALU and rejects Amazon’s contentions that the vote was bungled by the Board’s Brooklyn office and unfairly influenced by pressure from union activists. The certification, which Amazon intends to appeal to the full board in Washington DC and then onwards through the courts, reflects a pivotal moment for labor relations at the internet giant as it struggles to subdue further unionization drives springing up, for example at Shakopee, Minnesota, where worker organizing has been met with plans to close the facility.

Labor is Everywhere

Workers are everywhere and even news stories that on their face are about something completely different often have a labor angle. At WRI we want to show how labor movements in the U.S. and abroad make and shape all sorts of news. Accordingly, we will try to bring you a labor angle to a big news story that is otherwise being covered from a different perspective.

Tech Sector Becomes Unexpected Fertile Ground for Labor Organizing

The background

  • In 2022, the tech industry shed over 120,000 employees from its workforce through layoffs and the trend shows no sign of slowing down in 2023, with Google, Microsoft, and Amazon each terminating over 10,000 people in January.
  • Most infamously, after Elon Musk’s debt-financed Twitter takeover, the company sacked over 50 percent of its workforce in a matter of weeks, making comparisons to the leveraged buyouts and predatory corporate strategies of private equity firms inevitable.

The Labor Angle

  • The tech sector has long been hostile to organized labor, a mindset that some ascribe to the industry’s rise to prominence in the 1980s and 90s when free market thinking was unchallenged and a mistaken belief that the cutting edge tech industry need not be burdened with unions that are understood as inflexible and cumbersome.
  • However, this recent wave of firings may cause some to rethink these positions. Indeed, at Google the Alphabet Workers Union, a minority union of Google employees, has already laid the groundwork for a paradigm shift, criticizing the parent company’s callousness in laying off workers after a financial quarter in which the company made $17 billion in profits.
  • Indeed, successes among organizing drives at Amazon fulfillment centers, Apple stores, and video game companies (including Activision Blizzard, which Microsoft has targeted for takeover) have shifted the prospect of unionizing the tech field into the public eye.
  • The tech industry’s ability to remake the workforce and create products that radically undermine the position of labor, as demonstrated by Buzzfeed’s decision to engage ChatGPT AI to write content after a sweep of layoffs, underscores the importance of growing class consciousness among tech workers and their key strategic and positional power in the economy at large.