Too radical or not radical enough? US’s top labor lawyer in the spotlight

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As the Biden administration claims to be the most pro-union in generations, many US labor leaders have hailed Jennifer Abruzzo as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)’s loudest pro-union advocate in decades.

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The body’s top lawyer charged with enforcing US labor law has been championed by some and hailed as “radical” by his opponents. For others involved in the white-hot world of union organizing, she hasn’t gone very far.

Abruzzo’s authenticity is clear. It has repeatedly urged the five-person board of the NLRB to adopt new policies that would make union formation easier. She wants the board to ban so-called captive audience meetings in which Amazon and several other companies require employees to listen to anti-union speeches from managers and consultants. She wants the board to require employers to provide union recognition once most employees sign the card saying they want a union.


The NLRB is a federal agency that oversees and refers to federalization efforts and collective bargaining in the US private sector. Its general counsel essentially acts as a prosecutor, cracking down on labor law violations, for example, on companies that hire workers to support a union or on unions that are illegally picketing. work on.

With a Republican Senate filibuster to make it easier to block Joe Biden’s push for legislation, many unions and activists are looking to the NLRB’s board and Abruzzo to do so instead — particularly by the Labor Board under Donald Trump. After weakening the unions in various ways.

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As general counsel, Abruzzo has hit Starbucks particularly hard, filing an extraordinary number of complaints over its anti-union strategy—a total of 19 complaints accusing Starbucks of 81 illegal unfair labor practices. From spying on workers, firing more than a dozen supporters – union workers and closing shops in retaliation for union formation.

However, the Starbucks workers union complains that Abruzzo has not been aggressive enough towards Starbucks. It’s upset that the NLRB hasn’t filed a complaint that many union supporters say is proving to be Starbucks’ most effective anti-union strategy. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has warned that the company will benefit and better benefit baristas at its non-federal stores, But not for employees of stores that have already been unionized Or petitioned for union election. Not only has this made many baristas hesitant to support a union, but some labor leaders fear that other companies may adopt this powerful anti-union tactic.

In an interview with the Guardian, Abruzzo was asked – avoiding mention of any particular company – whether it was illegal for an employer to tell its employees that it would pay salaries and better benefits to its non-union employees, but Not your employees who have recently voted to unionize and want to negotiate their first contract.

“I think it’s an unfair labor practice to say this,” Abruzzo said. “I would say it’s unlawful, absent compelling commercial justification.” She continued: “To me that statement is inherently discriminatory conduct.” Federal law prohibits employers from taking discriminatory or retaliatory action against workers for supporting a union.

The US Chamber of Commerce has stated that Abruzzo has “Radical agenda hostile to employers”While Republicans on the House Labor Committee accuse them of “gross violation of applicable case law” and “unconscious attempts to advance a partisan objective”.

Richard Bensinger, one of the principal organizers of the Starbucks union, complains that Abruzzo has not been aggressive enough to go after Starbucks. He says that Abruzzo’s failure to file a complaint over Schultz’s threat has hurt his union’s historic unionization campaign for not offering certain benefits and benefits to union workers. Starbucks Workers United have unionized more than 200 corporate-run Starbucks since it first unionized last December. Starbucks has repeatedly denied involvement in any illegal anti-union activities.

To the dismay of the union, Schultz’s threat to deny and benefit to baristas in unionized stores frightened many employees and slowed the union’s momentum. Schultz stressed that it would be illegal to “unilaterally” impose those pay increases and benefits on union employees. Without discussing any specific employer, Abruzzo said that a CEO who provides benefits to non-union employees but does not want union employees to have their first contract, needs to offer those benefits to union employees. so that the Sangh has an opportunity to reject them, forgive them. Or accept them while continuing to bargain.

“We need to remember that we are a neutral, independent federal agency that enforces a pro-worker law,” Abruzzo said. Photograph: Amanda Andrade-Rhodes / AP

Abruzzo’s biggest complaint is that the budget of the NLRB has not increased for nine years. That said, this budget freeze has often made it impossible for the board to act as quickly as it would like – for example, by bringing in more complaints against employers engaged in widespread anti-union illegalities.

“We have been flat-funded at $272.4m since 2014,” Abruzzo said, noting that after factoring in inflation, the board’s budget has been reduced by 25% since 2014. She said board staff was being greatly reduced as the number of petitions sprung up in the union elections conducted by the NLRB 58% in the first nine months of the federal fiscal year – From 1,197 to 1,892 operated by workers at more than 300 Starbucks stores who petitioned for union elections. The board has also brought in 16% higher unfair labor practice fee (total 12,819) as compared to the year-ago period.

The budget freeze “puts a lot of pressure on our agency”, Abruzzo said. “We are dealing with too much work and too few resources.” He said more than half of the board’s 26 regional offices have at least two full-time “professionals”.

“I would say that the public is suffering from our insufficient funds and our lack of staff,” she said. “I do not want this agency to be a hindrance at all to workers who are trying to engage in a coordinated activity to improve their workplace conditions. With insufficient resources, it becomes very challenging, and we are a Don’t become a hindrance, but could potentially delay workers getting to where they want to be.

Abruzzo is pleased that Biden and congressional Democrats have agreed to increase the NLRB’s budget to $319.4 million for fiscal year 2023, but fears that number may prove to be a mirage because of the myriad obstacles to legislation. Might be possible. Many Republicans are happy to keep the NLRB underfunded.

One of Abruzzo’s goals is to reverse President Trump’s erroneous, anti-activist decisions made by the NLRB. “We must remember that we are a neutral, independent federal agency that enforces a worker’s statute,” she said. “I really don’t think the majority of the Trump board heeded Congress’s mandate to protect workers’ rights to engage in protected, concerted activity.” He criticized the Trump board narrowing down the definition of integrated, pro-activist activity and to make it easier Corporate work rules to penalize workers who speak up about workplace conditions,

Abruzzo has urged the five-person board to ban captive audience meetings, prompting strong opposition from business groups that such a move would erode employers’ free speech rights. Abruzzo denies that she is limiting the free speech of corporations.

“Employers,” she said, “are free to engage with their workers and voice their opinions and arguments as to why their workers would be better off without union representation—if they made it voluntary for workers to decide whether they would oppose that adversary. Want to hear—union rhetoric.” Noting that workers depend on their employers for their livelihood, Abruzzo said workers would feel “very intimidated” about not attending these essential meetings. He said the National Labor The Relationship Act prohibits intimidation or coercion to the employer.

In another move troubling trade, Abruzzo has proposed a return to the NLRB policy of 1949, known as Joy Silk, which would have required employers to recognize a union when most workers unionized. -The supporters sign the card, unless the employer has good faith doubts. majority validity. “When a union demonstrates that it enjoys the majority of workers in the workplace and an employer refuses to recognize an elected representative of its workers…” Abruzzo said. “We must not allow those employers to delay recognition to force these workers to think differently or choose differently.”

Business lobbyists often scoff at the legitimacy of card checks, claiming that thugs threaten pro-union activists into signing cards. Abruzzo scoffed at that notion. “Many high-road employers have agreed to the card-check process and enjoy very good labor-management relationships,” Abruzzo said. “Employees are not financially dependent on their union for their livelihood, while financially dependent on their employers for their livelihood. They are less likely to be affected by ‘bullying’ by unions than they are by ‘bullying’ by their employer.”

Recognizing that the NLRB’s normal procedures can sometimes take a long time, it has prompted the board’s regional offices to seek more emergency injunctions in federal court, for example, to quickly reinstate pro-union activists. The board believes he was illegally fired. Too often the purpose of those firings is to “dip into the bud organizing drive”, Abruzzo…


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