Story by Sean P. Redmond, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
In January, sources reported on the ongoing drama surrounding the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union’s (RWDSU) effort to organize workers at retail leader Amazon’s distribution facility in Bessemer, Alabama. Barely a month later, the RWDSU is at it again, and this time, the union has filed unfair labor practice (ULP) charges with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) before the re-run election it asked for has even finished. It would seem the RWDSU is setting the stage to ask for yet another bite at the apple in case it loses this time as well. However, this set of complaints could have wider national implications.
On February 22, the RWDSU filed three ULP charges alleging unlawful coercive rules, coercive actions, and changes to the terms and conditions of employment. According to news reports, the specific complaints include allegations that “the company removed pro-union literature from break rooms and limited workers’ warehouse access to 30 minutes at the end of their shift to make it harder for organizers to talk to workers on-site.”
In addition, and of greater concern to the business community, the RWDSU also challenged Amazon’s use of what unions like to call “captive audience” meetings, which are meetings at work where an employer discusses its perspective on the pros and cons of having a union in the workplace. These informational meetings take place during work hours, and employees are compensated at their regular rate of pay while attending.
Organized labor has long detested such meetings because they are opportunities for employers to provide information about unionization that labor organizers might not be eager to disclose as they attempt to garner support. For example, unions like the RWDSU certainly would not want prospective members to learn that their pension fund is in “critical” status and may not be able to pay promised benefits.
According to Bloomberg Government, a different union in New York filed a similar complaint in which it reportedly called for an “immediate end” to informational audience meetings altogether, which would be an even more radical policy shift.
Banning or restricting informational meetings would overturn decades of well-settled labor law, not to mention bump up against employer free speech rights. Yet that may not deter the current Board majority, which is seeking to overturn numerous precedents with blind determination. For employers, how the NLRB handles this issue could have significant implications.