Corporations Are Spending a Ton to Stop Low-Wage Workers From Unionizing

In the past year, thousands upon thousands of workers across America have been collecting signatures from their coworkers. Candy makers at a Hershey’s factory in Virginia. Cooks at a Chipotle in Michigan. Six employees work in a Dollar General store located in Connecticut.

Their goal was to form an union to force their bosses, who had suffered years of grueling work conditions during the COVID-19 epidemic, to negotiate better wages and benefits. Many of them are low-paid service employeesWe are trying to create the first unions for multibillion dollar companies.

According to a study, the recent increase in labor organizing is quite unusual. Center for Public IntegrityAnalysis of data published by National Labor Relations Board. This board enforces collective bargaining laws, and supervises union elections.

Since October’s start of the fiscal year (which began in October), more than 2,000 workers have filed requests to hold elections for the formation of labor unions. That’s a jump of more than 62% from fiscal year 2021 — the highest increase in at least a decade. These numbers don’t include unions created without formal elections, often because employers recognize them voluntarily.

The NLRB has been overwhelmed by the influx of requests for official elections. The agency said it’s understaffed and “handling unsustainable caseloads.”

It has also alarm corporate executives who pay thousands of dollars per day to disrupt organizing efforts. Amazon, Dollar General, Hershey’s, Pfizer, WalgreensAccording to a report by, Chipotle and Chipotle are two examples of major companies that have done this since the outbreak of the pandemic. Public Integrity’s review of disclosures filed with the U.S. Department of Labor.

One of their go-to firms is the Labor Relations Institute, which prides itself in guiding companies to become “union free” and educating employees “about the disadvantages of unions.”

In December and January, Dollar General paid the firm $83,488 for its services in stopping six workers at a store in Barkhamsted, Connecticut, from forming a union, according to the company’s disclosures.

The store’s employees said they wanted job security and to ensure they wouldn’t get fired without good reason.

One of them contacted Jennifer Petronella from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local371. Petronella said LRI, as the firm is known, put on the most aggressive anti-union campaign she’s ever witnessed. She said that several Dollar General executives flew to Connecticut to shadow employees during the weeks leading to the October election. She wasn’t surprised to find out how much Dollar General spent to block the union.

“What’s sad is that they’d rather pay consultants thousands and thousands of dollars rather than give that to their employees,” Petronella added.

Shellie Parsons was one of the employees who supported the election. She claimed that the executives and consultants made fun of unions and told employees that they were being tricked.

“They followed us. It’s like you’re walking on eggshells around the store. They’re right there,” Parsons described in an interviewAbout a week before the vote, with a More Perfect Union “They’re listening. You can’t talk. You can’t work. You can’t do nothing. It’s so uncomfortable.”

Days before the election, the company fired a union organizer for allegedly using profanity in front of customers, Petronella said — a move she said was illegal retaliation for his union organizing. UFCW Local 371 continues to challenge his firing before the labor board. In the end, the company’s strategy may have worked. Three of the six employees voted againstIt is possible to form a union, but it is not enough to stop it from happening.

Dollar General and Labor Relations Institute didn’t respond to a request to comment. Public Integrity.

Companies most often say they oppose labor organizations because they want to build a relationship with their employees. It also costs them more. Research showsThe growth of union jobs correlates with higher wages for the lowest-paid workers. Studies show that union membership increases. likely decreases income inequality.

In 2021, the average weekly paycheck of a union employee was $194 more than that of a nonunion employee. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While public supportAlthough the popularity of labor unions has risen in recent years and has fallen for decades, the percentage of workers who are members has remained steady. Only about 1 in 10 workersUnited States union members are called.

Corporate executives don’t seem to want that number to rise. Public IntegrityWe looked at public records to find out how much U.S. corporations have paid union-avoidance companies in recent years. Here’s a selection of what we found.


Amazon is the largest spender in recent years. According to information filed with the Department of Labor, Amazon paid $4.2 million to four anti union labor firms in 2021. The filings described the payments as a “response to large scale union organizing efforts.”

Most of that money targeted organizing efforts at two Amazon warehouses: one in Bessemer, Alabama, and another at the company’s JFK8 warehouse in Staten Island, New York.

One firm, Lev Labor, charged $400 per hour for each consultant to meet with workers at the Staten Island warehouse, conduct “walkthroughs” and run employee focus groups. They also met up with managers to engage in roleplaying discussions about the union.

It’s possible that this strategy did not work. In April, a majority of employees there voted in favor of joining the Amazon Labor Union — the first federally recognized union victory at the company’s U.S. facilities. Amazon is contesting the election results before NLRB.

The union’s win in April follows heated elections at a separate Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama. The vote for unionization was narrowly won by workers who voted against it in 2021. The results of a revoteMarch, which was ordered in March by the labor board is still too close to call.

Amazon did not respond when asked for comment. Public Integrity. Lev Labor did not.

Amazon has yet to report its union-related spending for 2022.

The Hershey’s Company

During the winter, The Hershey’s Company hired six union-avoidance firms to block organizing efforts at its chocolate factory in Stuarts Draft, Virginia.

The main reasons employees voted for unionization were overtime pay cuts, fewer breaks, and wage gaps. They also cited the Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco and Grain Millers International Union as the reason they wanted to organize. More than 1,000 people work at the company’s second-largest factory, which produces iconic candies such as Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Almond Joy candy bars. Only two of Hershey’s seven factories are unionized.

“We are delighted and honored for the opportunity to educate your employees about the myths and realities of union representation,” wrote Phillip Wilson, president of the Labor Relations Institute, in a January letter to a company executive. The labor firm submitted the letter to the Department of Labor.

In March, the majority of workers left the plant. voted against unionizing. It’s unclear how much money Hershey’s paid the six labor firms to help make that happen. The company hasn’t submitted its spending report for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Hershey’s did not respond to a request for comment from Public Integrity. Phillip Wilson, Labor Relations Institute, did not agree.

Chipotle Mexican Grill

Chipotle engaged three different firms to assist in union organizing efforts at one of its restaurants during the summer. P.A.S. was the least of the three firms. According to the disclosures, labor was paid to speak to workers at a Lansing, Michigan restaurant.

The firm’s anti-union campaign did not pay off. Most employees left the restaurant in August. voted in favor of joining Teamsters Local 243 to represent 21 employees — the chain’s first location to unionize.

Employees saidThey want better wages and more flexible work hours.

Chipotle opened a month earlier than expected. permanently closed a restaurant in Augusta, Maine. Workers had just filed a request for a vote in a union election. The company said it was unable to “adequately staff” that location, though union organizers claimed the chain was trying to silence workers.

Chipotle has not responded to a request for comment Public Integrity. The president of P.A.S. did not agree. Labor.

It’s unclear how much Chipotle paid the three union-avoidance firms it hired over the summer, as it hasn’t submitted its spending report for the current fiscal year.


Last year, the luxury goods retailer paid $47,250 to the Labor Relations Institute to “train members of management on how to comply with the National Labor Relations Act and/or to educate employees regarding their [collective bargaining] rights.”

The company’s disclosures did not give details about where employees were organizing, but one consultant mentioned that his work involved the “pre-petition” phase, meaning that employees had not yet requested an official election. According to NLRB records, they still haven’t.

Williams-Sonoma’s warehouse workers tried to unionize at the least twice in 2016, but the company denied both requests. The board rejected one, and employees withdrew their second.

Williams-Sonoma didn’t respond to questions from Public Integrity.

(Editor’s note: The author of this article is a member of the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, which is affiliated with the Communications Workers of America, a member union of the AFL-CIO.)

This articleThe first appearance was on Center for Public Integrity This article is republished here with a Creative Commons licence.