A similar unionization effort among Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama failed earlier this year amid allegations that the company engaged in illegal union-busting tactics.
Staten Island Unionization Efforts Advance
Workers at a group of Amazon warehouses in Staten Island, New York, filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Monday to hold a unionization vote after collecting the necessary number of signatures.
The latest push is not affiliated with a national union but is instead organized by a grassroots worker group called the Amazon Labor Union, which is self-organized and financed via GoFundMe.
The group is run by Chris Smalls, a former Amazon warehouse worker who led a walkout at the beginning of the pandemic to protest the lack of protective gear and other conditions. Smalls was later fired the same day.
For months now, Smalls and the other organizers have been forming a committee and collecting signatures from workers to back their push for a collective bargaining group, as well as pay raises, more paid time off, longer breaks, less mandatory overtime, and the ability to cancel shifts in dangerous weather conditions.
On Monday, the leader said he had collected over 2,000 signatures from the four Staten Island facilities, which employ roughly 7,000 people, meeting the NLRB requirement that organizers get support from at least 30% of the workers they wish to represent.
Amazon’s Anti-Union Efforts Continue
The campaign faces an uphill battle because Amazon — the second-largest private employer in the U.S. — has fought hard against unionization efforts for decades and won.
This past spring, Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama held a vote for unionization that ultimately failed by a wide margin.
However, the NLRB is now considering whether to hold another vote after a top agency official found in August that Amazon’s anti-union tactics interfered with the election so much that the results should be scrapped and another one should be held.
Amazon, for its part, is already trying to undermine the new effort in Staten Island. As far back as the walkout led by Smalls at the beginning of the pandemic, workers have filed 10 labor complaints claiming that Amazon has interfered with their organizing efforts.
The NLRB has said that its attorneys have found merit in at least three of those claims and are continuing to look into the others.
Meanwhile, Smalls told NPR last week that the company has ramped up those efforts recently by putting up anti-union signs around the warehouses and installing a barbed wire to limit the organizers’ space.
Representatives for Amazon did not comment on those allegations, but in a statement Monday, a spokesperson attempted to cast doubt on the number of signatures Smalls and his group have collected.
“We’re skeptical that a sufficient number of legitimate employee signatures has been secured to warrant an election,” the spokesperson said. “If there is an election, we want the voice of our employees to be heard and look forward to it.”
The labor board disputed that claim in a statement from the agency’s press secretary on Monday, stressing that the group submitted enough signatures.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Workers in Alabama Will Rehold Vote to Unionize After Amazon Interfered With First Election, Agency Finds
Among other actions, federal officials found that Amazon improperly placed an unmarked U.S. Postal Service mailbox in front of its warehouse.
Workers Will Redo Union Vote
Workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, will revote on whether or not to unionize thanks to a ruling issued Monday by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
The workers previously agreed not to unionize by a vote of 1,798 to 738 in April. Had they voted yes, the group would have set a precedent by becoming the first Amazon employees in the country to be represented by a union.
Following the initial vote, the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union — which led the charge for employees to organize — filed unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB, an independent federal agency. There, it alleged that Amazon at times broke the law while campaigning against the effort.
In its Monday decision, the NLRB’s Atlanta regional director Lisa Henderson agreed, saying Amazon, “essentially highjacked the process and gave a strong impression that it controlled the process.”
She additionally noted that Amazon “improperly polled employees when it presented small groups of employees with the open and observable choice to pick up or not pick up ‘Vote No’ paraphernalia in front of” managers.
Amazon Challenges NLRB Ruling
Amazon is expected to appeal Henderson’s decision.
“It’s disappointing that the NLRB has now decided that those votes shouldn’t count. As a company, we don’t think unions are the best answer for our employees,” spokesperson Kelly Nantel said according to NPR.
In a statement, Nantel also cited the fact that the results of the first vote were overwhelming.
Convincing employees to flip the results will likely be an uphill battle. To do so, those in favor of unionizing will need to convince hundreds to vote differently or convince thousands of workers who sat out the last round to now vote.
Still, this is a second breath of life for pro-unionists. While some believe the outcome could change given high employee turnover rates at Amazon, many others expect it to hold firm as a “no” vote.
See what others are saying: (NPR) (WVTM) (The Washington Post)
CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart Helped Fuel the Opioid Crisis, Jury Finds
While all three chains have vowed to appeal, this ruling is a massive win for plaintiffs who argued that opioid manufacturers and retailers violated “public nuisance” laws when contributing to the opioid epidemic.
Jury Sides Against Retailers
A federal jury in Cleveland agreed Tuesday that CVS Health, Walgreens, and Walmart — three of the country’s biggest pharmacy chains — are responsible for contributing to the opioid crisis in two Ohio counties.
This is the first time that the retail arm of the drug industry has been held accountable for opioid overdoses and deaths. It’s also the first time a jury has been used to decide in a major opioid lawsuit.
Previously, only manufacturers such as Purdue Pharma and Johnson & Johnson faced settlements or penalties, though the latter narrowly escaped $465 million in opioid fines in Oklahoma earlier this month after the state’s Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling.
Many plaintiffs in thousands of similar lawsuits all across the country are seeing the Ohio jury’s decision as an optimistic sign — especially since most of them are using the same argument. Plaintiffs in Ohio alleged that either opioid manufacturers or retailers violated “public nuisance” laws by ignoring harm caused by opioid abuse that later snowballed into a full-fledged public health crisis.
Retailers Vow to Appeal
Unsurprisingly, all three chains have promised to appeal Tuesday’s verdict.
There is precedent to think this decision could be overturned. For example, the now-overturned J&J lawsuit first successfully used the public nuisance argument in lower courts, but during an appeal, the Oklahoma Supreme Court thought the plaintiff’s argument was too broad.
That said, every state has different public nuisance laws, so there may not be a clear-cut answer as to what actually could happen with all these cases.
Despite a pending appeal, the judge overseeing Tuesday’s Ohio verdict will make a determination on how much these companies must pay after additional hearings in the spring.
While the retail arm has largely avoided settling up to this point, if this case ultimately does not go their way, it could open the door for future settlements if they decide that route is less costly than going to trial.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Associated Press) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Authorizes Release of 50 Million Barrels of Oil From U.S. Reserve To Ease Gas Prices
Experts believe the release will, at best, provide temporary relief to extremely high gas prices but only if other countries tap into a significant amount of oil from their reserves as well.
Biden Taps Into Oil Reserves
President Joe Biden authorized the release of 50 million barrels of oil from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve on Tuesday in an attempt to bring down staggeringly high gas prices.
“American consumers are feeling the impact of elevated gas prices at the pump and in their home heating bills, and American businesses are, too, because oil supply has not kept up with demand as the global economy emerges from the pandemic,” a White House announcement reads. “That’s why President Biden is using every tool available to him to work to lower prices and address the lack of supply.”
As of Tuesday morning, the national average of gas sat at $3.40, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA). While down slightly over the last few days, the national average for November remains the highest it’s been since 2013.
Despite the announcement, Americans shouldn’t expect to see an immediate drop in gas costs. In fact, gas prices are unlikely to be impacted much in the coming weeks since the government’s reserve only stores crude oil, which will need time to be refined into gasoline.
Many analysts expect gas from the reserves to start reaching consumers’ pumps around mid-December, but even then, it will likely be used up in around a week. Last year, the U.S. used about 8 million barrels of gas from the reserve a day.
Those two factors are likely major contributors to why this news didn’t do much to calm the oil market. Following the announcement Tuesday, the benchmark oil price in the U.S. — measured by West Texas Intermediate crude futures — actually rose.
Last week, Biden asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into “mounting evidence of anti-consumer behavior by oil and gas companies” amid rising gas prices.
Price Concerns Persist
In its announcement, the White House said the U.S. release is being taken “in parallel with other major energy consuming nations, including China, India, Japan, Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom.”
A number of analysts cited by various news publications have predicted that this kind of multi-country release is the only chance the U.S. actually has of meaningfully impacting gas prices.
“The bottom line for motorists is this moves the needle — but barely, and maybe not for a very long period of time,” Patrick De Haan, an industry expert at Gas Buddy, explained to The Washington Post. “It’s certainly something, but how much that something is will be contingent on how much the other countries put in.”
It is currently unclear how much oil the other countries plan to release, though Indian officials have said the country will release 5 million barrels from its reserve.
Efforts could also go south in the long-term if the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) pushes back. It previously warned of a possible response if Biden decided to make this type of release, with the organization arguing that the U.S. has no real justification for needing to tap into its reserve.
“There’s a threat this could lead to a risk of prices being elevated for longer if OPEC holds back meaningful production increases as a result,” De Haan told The Post.
Overall, the release of oil is a tricky situation for Biden. He was already facing stacking criticism from Republicans for recent inflation and supply chain bottlenecks. Even now, many have said the release of 50 million barrels isn’t good enough on its own.
On the other side, Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (N.Y.) have argued that tapping into the reserve could provide temporary relief.