Monday, April 4, 2022

The biggest workplace story of 2022

Last Friday, workers won the first-ever union election at an Amazon warehouse (a fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York). This is the biggest workplace story of the year, and it won't even be close. 

Here's why.

1/ Amazon is stridently anti-union.

It aggressively campaigns against union organizing drives. It tells employees in meeting after meeting why they should vote "Union, no." They (allegedly) fire and smear pro-union employees. No employer has fought unionization harder than Amazon over the past several years, and it didn't matter anyway, at least in its Staten Island fulfillment center.

2/ This organizing campaign was a grassroots crowdfunded campaign started by a terminated pro-union employee. 

Amazon fired the face of this union, Christian Smalls, after he organized a walk-out to protest Covid safety protocols and working conditions. In response, he and his best friend from the warehouse, Derrick Palmer, organized a growing band of colleagues without any affiliation with a national labor organization. They raised money to run their campaign through a GoFundMe. They held picnics and made TikTok videos to reach employees. They did have the support of various established unions, including Unite Here, the United Food and Commerical Workers, and the Office and Professional Employees International Union, which provided office space and legal support. But this campaign was 100 percent employee-driven and organized.

This was not your dad's organizing campaign. Amazon was unprepared to respond in a meaningful way that would reach its employees. Instead, it ran its traditional anti-union campaign from its "Labor Activity Playbook." Amazon was doomed to lose because it simply wasn't playing the same game as its employees. 

The problem for most employers is two-fold. First, many don't even perceive there is a risk, even as union victories in high-profile workplaces continue to make headlines. Secondly, those that do are combatting a 2022 problem with 20th-century union-busting tactics. You can't fight viral TikToks with captive audience speeches and retaliatory terminations. Those employers that do are playing right into the union's hands. 

Two years ago I would have told you that labor unions were a dinosaur. Today, they are Jurassic Park, risen from the dead and better than ever. They certainly don't appear to be going extinct any time soon. Employers who ignore their threat risk getting eaten alive, or worse. 

Find yourself a management-side labor lawyer who knows and understands the new rules of the union organizing road and prepare now, or pay the price later.