Starbucks' union-busting tactics shared by others

Business owners are notoriously secretive about products, advertising strategy, investment possibilities, and any aspect of the profit machine. Buy they're not opposed to sharing ideas when discussing, planning, and implementing a union-busting campaign. From cannabis workers, baristas, and warehouse workers to people in the railway industry, university employees, and students alike, working people are struggling for safer working conditions, higher wages, and dignity on the job.

Steven Green writes in "Starbucks' Aggressive Union-Busting Is a New Model for American Corporations" for Slate,

"These heavy-handed, anti-union moves highlight three big problems. First, they create an atmosphere of fear that often prevents something that federal labor laws seek to guarantee—free and fair unionization elections. Far too often, all the closings, firings, and other anti-union moves destroy the "laboratory conditions" that the National Labor Relations Board says are needed to assure workers a "free choice" when voting whether to unionize.

The increased interest in unionization by US workers also means that large transnational corporations, like Amazon, Walmart, REI, Home Depot, Apple, Chipotle, Starbucks, Amy's Kitchen, and Zen Leaf, are sharing tactics to pit workers against each other, undercutting solidarity, and challenging union-organizing efforts. Firings, stores closing, last-minute schedule changes, reduction in hours and pay rate, back-logging violations of handbooks, and retaliation against staff supporting union organizing are all standard practices.

"Several of the corporations involved in today's high-profile unionization battles seem to have borrowed some of Starbucks' hardball tactics. Last month, Apple withheld some education and health care benefits from workers at the first Apple store to unionize, in Towson, Maryland, even as it extended those benefits to its non-union workers. That news came out just days before workers at Apple's Oklahoma City store were to vote on unionizing. In September, Trader Joe's, shortly after learning of the unionization effort at its store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, fired a prominent union supporter there, a move that workers said helped cause the organizing drive there to lose momentum. Last week, that store's workers voted down a union 94 to 66."

Why the recent upturn in interest by American workers in unionizing?

"In recent decades, American workers have been badly squeezed by several troubling trends: Income inequality has grown ever wider, workers' share of GDP has fallen, and wages for the average worker have stagnated (except recently amid a very low unemployment rate). Arguably the best way to reverse these disturbing trends would be to make it easier for workers to unionize—and to make it harder for Starbucks and other corporations to suppress American workers' ability to organize.

For more on the history of capitalist business owners sharing union-busting tactics, click here for Lee Fang's "The Evolution of Union-Busting."

"In the late 19th and early 20th century, in the early days of the U.S. labor movement, corporations facing labor activism would often create fake union organizations controlled by management. These so-called company unions would provide a false sense of worker empowerment, with some fringe benefits like a pool hall or recreation center, while keeping wage and benefit decisions controlled by corporate leaders.

The National Labor Relations Act of 1935, also known as the Wagner Act, which enshrined federal labor union rights, expressly outlawed the formation of company unions. Corporations cannot form worker organizations that claim to negotiate on behalf of employees.

As this most recent cycle of worker militancy circulates to new industries, learning from the past is paramount.