Companies Are Pushing Back Harder on Union Efforts, Workers Say

“You’re espousing these values but saying this other organization claiming the same values” — the union — “isn’t good for your work force,” said David Pryzbylski, a labor lawyer at Barnes & Thornburg who represents employers. “It puts you in a little bit of corner.”

Once the union wins a few elections, however, “you pull out all the stops,” Mr. Pryzbylski said.

In some cases, the apparent escalation of company pushback has coincided with a slowing down of the union campaigns. At Starbucks, filings for union elections fell below 10 in August, from about 70 five months earlier, and no Apple store has filed for a union election since November.

At Starbucks, the company unlawfully dismissed seven Buffalo-area employees last year, not long after the union won two elections there, according to a ruling by a federal administrative judge.

A Trader Joe’s store in Louisville, Ky., which was the third at the company to unionize, fired two employees who were supportive of the union campaign and has formally disciplined several more, said Connor Hovey, a worker involved in the organizing. Documents shared by Mr. Hovey show the company citing a variety of issues, such as dress-code violations, tardiness and excessively long breaks.

And in advance of a recent union election at an REI near Cleveland, management sought to exclude certain categories of workers from voting, according to the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. It said the chain, a co-op that sells recreational gear, had made no such challenge in two previous elections, in which workers voted to unionize. (The union said the company had backed down after workers at the Cleveland-area store walked out, and the store voted to unionize in March.)

Jess Raimundo, a spokeswoman for the United Food and Commercial Workers, which is also seeking to unionize REI stores, said the co-op had formally disciplined one employee in Durham, N.C., and put another on leave and later fired him over a workplace action that took place after the workers filed for a union election last month.

Starbucks, which is appealing the ruling involving the Buffalo-area employees, has said the firings and discipline were unrelated to union organizing. A Trader Joe’s spokeswoman said that the company had never disciplined an employee for seeking to unionize but that unionizing efforts didn’t exempt an employee from job responsibilities.

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