January 2023, Volume 29, Number 1
UFW, ALRB, Unions
The UFW has contracts with five wineries, including Napa’s St Supery, and charged in April 2022 that St Supery did not permit UFW staff to talk to FLC employees working at St Supery. The UFW says that the CBA that went into effect September 25, 2021 allows UFW employees to enter St Supery and talk to FLC employees.
The UFW reported 13 contracts with brand names on its web page in Fall 2022 https://ufw.org/organizing/ufw-labels).
The GC reported that St Supery refused to provide the GC with copies of its communications with the UFW and FLCs. St Supery countered that the UFW should use the grievance-arbitration procedure in the current CBA to resolve the access issue.
USDA in October 2022 made $655 million in grants to 15 NGOs to provide $600 grants to farm, meatpacking, and grocery store workers by June 2024. The UFW provided assistance to NGOs seeking to help farm workers, and Corazon Latino to NGOs helping meatpacker employees (www.ams.usda.gov/services/grants/ffwr).
The UFCW Foundation received the most money to distribute, $132 million, followed by the UFW Foundation, $98 million. Many NGOs serve multiple states, including 12 that serve California. https://www.ams.usda.gov/press-release/usda-announces-15-organizations-will-administer-farm-and-food-workers-relief-grant)
ALRB. Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 2183 in September 2022, saying “our state has been defined by the heroic activism of farmworkers.” Newsom said that additional legislation in 2023 will protect the confidentiality of farm worker votes.
There have been few UFW-requested elections on California farms over the past decade. AB 2183 gave unions three ways to be certified to represent the workers on a firm.
First is the current in-person secret ballot election typically held on the farm that employs the voting workers. Under AB 2183, agricultural employers can insist on in-person secret ballots if they sign labor peace compacts that give union organizers access to workers on their farms, effectively negating the 2021 USSC Cedar Point decision that limited the access of union organizers to workers on farms.
Second would be mail-in ballots that could be pre-filled by unions, signed by workers, and returned to the ALRB by workers or the union; this option is to be eliminated by promised legislation in 2023. Third would be card check or union authorization cards signed by workers and returned to the ALRB by the worker or union. Unions would have a year to collect sufficient authorization cards to obtain a Majority Support Petition, and up to 75 card-check elections are allowed by 2028.
AB 2183 also allows the ALRB to impose civil penalties of $10,000 to $25,000 for each employer unfair labor practice, requires employers to post a bond before appealing an ALRB decision to a state Court of Appeal, and imposes a “burden of proof” standard on any party seeking to set aside a union election that it believes was tainted.
Farm employers opposed AB 2183, emphasizing that employers who did not sign labor peace agreements could see union organizers pressure their employees to sign union authorization cards. Employer associations advised their members not to sign labor-peace agreements.
Cinagro (organic spelled backwards) misclassified six farm workers as independent contractors and fired them after they complained that their payroll stubs did not include deductions for payroll taxes. An ALJ found the firing unlawful retaliation for their protected concerted activities, and ordered Cinagro to reinstate the workers with back pay.
The ALRB in July 2022 went further and imposed civil money penalties on Cinagro for misclassifying its employees under Labor Code 226.8, which has since 2012 allowed the Labor Commissioner to impose CMPs of $5,000 to $15,000 for willful mis-classification of employees as independent contractors. Cinagro appealed the ALRB’s imposition of CMPs, arguing that the ALRB is empowered only to restore the economic status quo of aggrieved workers, not to punish employers who violate labor laws.
Unions. The share of US workers who were union members fell to 10 percent in 2022, down from 20 percent in 1983. A third of public sector workers are union members, compared with six percent of private sector workers. Almost a third of the 14 million union members in 2022 lived in two states, CA with 2.6 million and NT with 1.7 million.
Some 36,000 University of California graduate student workers went on a five-week strike in November 2022 and won significant wage increases to cope with the rising cost of living. UC graduate student employees represented by the United Auto Workers do much of the teaching and grading for UC’s 300,000 students, and the settlement raised their minimum salaries by 50 percent to a minimum $34,000 for RAs and TAs. A separate agreement was reached with 12,000 academic researchers and postdoctoral employees whose salaries are covered by research grants.
Congress boosted funding for the NLRB to almost $300 million for FY23, up from an average $275 million a year since FY14. Over 500 staff, a third of the agency’s workforce, left since 2010, and many of their jobs remain unfilled despite more union activities. The NLRB GC is locked in a battle with the union representing many GC employees over how often they must work in person.
Amazon’s logistics chief Jeff Wilke combined Taylorism’s practices of monitoring workers and measuring their ability to perform repetitive tasks with Fordism assembly-line techniques to allow Amazon warehouses to process over a million units a day. Robots and monitors help Amazon workers to accurately box and ship an item a minute.
Efforts to unionize Amazon warehouse workers are uneven, succeeding in some areas but not others. Amazon offers some of the highest hourly wages and best benefits to warehouse workers, but demands fast and careful work. Turnover in Amazon warehouses is often 150 percent a year, suggesting that many workers refuse to accept this trade off. Workers at an 8,300 employee Staten Island Amazon warehouse in April 2022 voted for the Amazon Labor Union.
Workers at 250 Starbucks outlets voted for union representation in 2021 and 2022. Starbucks employs 250,000 workers, many part time, and about two percent are employed in outlets that voted for unions. After founder Howard Schultz returned as CEO in April 2022, Starbucks announced wage increases and new benefits for employees of non-union stores, drawing complaints from stores that voted for union representation.
About 10 percent of all US workers are union members, including seven percent of private sector workers and a third of public sector employees. Almost half of union members have college degrees.
Unions allege that many employers unlawfully fire union workers. The NLRB in December 2022 expanded the back wages due to unlawfully fired workers to include any losses of work-related benefits such as health insurance costs and late fees if workers are unable to pay their bills.
New York replaced Los Angeles as the busiest US port in 2022, as shippers avoided West Coast ports for fear of strikes; New York and Los Angeles each handle a quarter of US containers. The Los Angeles port complex is closer to China, but reliance on Los Angeles meant that many containers were delayed on ships waiting to unload. The widening of the Panama Canal in 2016 has shifted more containers to East and Gulf Coast Ports.