As discussed on today's BradCast, support for labor unions in the U.S. is now near all-time highs. At the same time, the lawlessness by major companies willingly and repeatedly violating labor law is through the roof. [Audio link to full show is posted below.]
Last week, by way of just one example, a federal Administrative law judge found Starbucks had committed "egregious" violations of labor law in just one case that combined unfair labor practices charges at 21 union stores in the Buffalo, New York area alone. In fact, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has brought some 75 complaints against the coffee company accusing them of more than 1,000 illegal actions over just the past year or two.
Despite a newly aggressive, pro-labor, pro-union NLRB under President Biden and an explosion of unionization efforts over the past two years at hundreds of shops and facilities owned by firms like Starbucks, Amazon, Apple, REI and Chipotle, those companies have spent tens of millions on attorneys specializing in breaking unions, according to our guest today.
DR. NELSON LICHTENSTEIN, author and longtime professor of labor history at Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, joins us today to discuss both the successes and obstacles faced by the new union movement rising in the U.S. since he was here in 2021. While the companies mentioned have long attempted to project a friendly, progressive image to the public, they have been very aggressive in attempting, frequently unlawfully, to block unionization of stores and facilities around the country. Firing workers who support unions; shutting down shops where union votes have been requested and/or have succeeded; and, where union votes have succeeded, companies have simply refused to negotiate union contracts. That "is par for the course," Lichtenstein argues.
He cites "almost fifty years of specialized anti-labor law firms" now being employed by those companies. "And it works! Why change it?," he quips. "Despite the public relations hit that it has had for Starbucks and the other companies, the managers had their meetings, they've run the numbers, they've decided they'll take a small reduction in their growth and it's worth it."
"The tremendous push-back is really a tribute to the importance of unionism," says Lichtenstein. "The official line of these companies is '[unionization is] not going to change anything!'...While they are moving heaven and earth to stop the union."
Lichtenstein describes "the most aggressively pro-labor" NLRB in decades, noting "they don't have much money and they're putting together real indictments of these companies. The problem is that the NLRB doesn't really have any disciplinary tools at its command. The penalties for breaking the law are really minuscule." And, with those small penalties, these anti-union companies have simply decided that repeatedly and "egregiously" violating the law is merely the cost of doing business.
Republicans in the last Congress blocked passage of the federal Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act which would make many of these violations much more painful for company management. But, Lichtenstein explains, there are already laws on the books --- both anti-trust and RICO statutes --- that could be used by the federal government to bring anti-union companies to heal by making them feel real pain for violating the law.
We discuss all of that and much more today, including what Lichtenstein attributes to the recent rise in support for unions and unionization, and whether he is optimistic or pessimistic about the current state of labor and the new unionization movement.
Also today, Desi Doyen joins us to explain some very big news from over the weekend on protecting the planet's oceans, after the U.N. sealed a landmark deal in overtime on Saturday, following a nearly 20-year effort for the framework of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The breakthrough agreement, as she details, will help protect about 50% of the world's "high seas" which are currently outside national boundary waters or otherwise protected only by a patchwork of regional agreements.
And finally, with the clocks mercifully changing once again to Daylight Saving Time this coming weekend, it's time for our annual call to make it permanent. Once again this year, we are backed by a bipartisan effort in both the House and Senate to do just that...
(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)